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Mini-series Part 3: Digitalization and the accountant

In the first two parts of this mini-series, I discussed the definitions of (Part 1) and role of AIS (Part 2) in digitization and digitalization. In this third part, I would like to highlight the development of the role of the accountant in this regard. Digitalization is both boon and bane of the future accountant – on one hand, it helps further the minimizing of his/her involvement in the nitty-gritty daily grind, the “bean-counting” the end of which has long been heralded by the automation of accounting processes. On the other hand, though, it raises questions about the legitimacy of the role – in other words, are accountants still needed? It seems an inevitable development that more digitalization means less and less accountants are needed to perform the same tasks, both in scope and quality. In this highly interesting article published by the WHU in Vallendar/Germany, the authors highlight eight challenges that current and future (management) accountants might face when confronted with the digitalization trend. The video below helps as an executive summary of the article, but I highly recommend to have a good read – you will learn that the digitalization trend does not have to automatically mean the end of the (management) accountant – if they get proactive with the technology and concepts involved.

Old-school data security – the floppy disk is alive and kicking

Accountants have an inherent interest in corporate data, and as such, its security and privacy. In our book, we write about the newest technologies, including cloud computing, where we claim that the cloud can provide a measure of security to companies that the companies themselves would be unable to garner. However, not always is the newest technology the only way to go – in this article on BBC Tech, the author explains how the good old floppy disk, in spite of swan songs having been sung for decades by now, is still alive and kicking. Why is that? Why do organisations like the Pentagon or manufacturing companies keep using this seemingly outdated format? In short, the floppy disk has proven age-resistant, nigh impossible to hack (unless it is lost and found by unauthorised third parties), and usually found in systems that are very cumbersome and costly to update.

So it is one thing to appreciate the newest of technologies, but one should never forget or discard the old ones! As accountants, we should not forget that – for some businesses, it might be better to stick with the old.

Outgrowing your accounting software?

As a business grows, so too does its accounting needs. And this includes software. The are many choices to be made of a software  

 change is required. My own experience is the key thing to do is first understand where things are not going well. This post from it-director.com offers some useful advice.

    Careers in Accounting Information Systems

    From many chats with my accounting students, a large number of them seem to get the impression that studying AIS enables them to only pursue an accounting career. They more often than not react surprised when they learn that studying AIS opens career paths as financial or systems auditors, consultants, or even to upper management levels like CFOs. This article on Investopedia provides more details on these professions, their corresponding education requirements, and further links for the student interested in studying AIS.

    Ways for accountants and CFOs to keep up with technology

    Technological change has always been one of the common issues faced by accountants. What can accountants do to keep up with the pace of change. An article from CGMA provides some useful tips.

    Making investments in technology

    

    More and more, accountants and CFOs are involved in key decisions on what information technology to invest in. They may or may not have a level of technical knowledge to make a fully informed decision. This article from CGMA provides some useful guidance, providing some questions accountants need to ask.

    Inbound interfaces – an example from SAP

    As you might imagine, any business that starts using a system like SAP will most likely want to transfer data from their old system. This might be anything from customer details, to open invoices on customer/supplier accounts, to closing ledger balances. Transferring can be done two ways, manually to using an interface.

    Ultimately, using an interface is probably best as it automates mundane work and is likely to be less error prone than manual entry. For example, can you imagine and organisation with 2,000 customers, each with 5 outstanding invoices? That’s 10,000 entries to be made manually – not an ideal scenario. So an interface would be the best option, but what is an interface?

    In this case, we can describe an interface as an agreed format to transfer data from one system to another. SAP for example uses a concept call iDocs to not only transfer data within SAP, but also receive data from outside.  You can think of an iDoc as a simple text file, with lines of text. The first line is a control record, with each line thereafter a data record. In simple terms, the control record tells the system where the data which follows is to go. Each record (line) in the iDoc is 1,000 characters long, and the position of each character determines what the data means – the positions are defined by SAP. Here is an example of what an iDoc record might look like:

    ORDERHEADER 1088    1089    12500.50   24121998 Micky Mouse

    Normally, a programmer develops some programme code which can extract data from the sending system to comply with iDoc format. Then, when the programme is run, the iDoc is read by SAP and the relevant data fields are populated e.g. customer details, open invoices.