More and more, technology is used to help many of us do our job. I read an article a few months in the Wall Street Journal about how increasing integration of technology in NYPD police cars is helping officers fight crime. Of course, in-car systems are not confined to NYPD, and many European police forces use technology in patrol cars.
The article mentions a smart car, which is being trialed in one NYPD precinct. The car is equipped with number plate recognition, video cameras and even radiation detectors. All data collected is transmitted back to a central location, where it can be analysed at a high level if needed. The technology also allows officers make decisions while on patrol – for example, ignore a car with an outstanding parking ticket, but stop if if stolen.
So, where is the management accounting system is this police car? Ok, this is a trial, but it is likely to reflect what an actual patrol car will do in the near future. I define management accounting as the provision of information to make decisions. Using this simple definition, there are two ways we could describe the smart patrol car as part of a management accounting system 1) it provides officers with information to make decisions on the spot and 2) the information gathered may also be used to inform higher-level policy and strategic decisions.
Personally, as someone who has implemented and worked with several accounting and business information systems, I would say information systems are vital to accountants. Without them, financial accountants and auditors get no financial statements; without them, managers get no information to make business decisions. But that is the practical me. And I suppose the academic me too. However, if the recent European Accounting Association (EAA) annual conference is anything to go by, the academic community does not share my view. The EAA is a great conference, and brings together about 1,500 academics from all over Europe and beyond. Now, what I am about to say is not at all intended to be negative against the EAA, rather a reflection on the possible lack of focus by accounting academics on the ongoing effects of information systems on accounting and accountants. Of about 900 papers at the 2013 EAA conference in Paris, only 9 were presented under the title “information systems”. I did a quick check to see if papers were not categorised correctly and I only found 2 or 3 papers which I personally might classify as information systems papers.
So what does this mean? I don’t know to be honest. Maybe it’s a temporary blip. Having said that, the previous conferences were not teeming with papers on the things that drive accounting work on a daily basis i.e. information systems. The only thing I can say to my fellow academics is that information systems and technology is not a “black box” any more, it really does affect how we behave and how we do things – think of a smart phone for a moment. Technology does more now that just automate what we as accountants do – it can analyse data better and faster than us and deliver results directly to managers. I don’t think accountants are a redundant commodity yet, but as academics we need more detailed inside the box research to figure out what the accountants of the future will actually do. Well, that’s what I think at least?