Issues in Management Accounting (3rd Edition)

Issues in Management Accounting (3rd Edition)

The aims of this third edition of Issues in Management Accounting remain unchanged from previous editions. Our intention is to produce a collection of articles on cutting edge research topics, written by leading researchers in a style accessible to managers, students and academics who are not necessarily specialists in the area. The motivation is our belief that conventional management accounting textbooks are invariably weak on theory, neglect contemporary research, and are unduly conservative and professionally and technically oriented. Nevertheless, this book does not seek to replace such textbooks, but rather to complement and extend them so readers can gain a broader insight into current management accounting issues by incorporating material from recent research.

Eleven years have elapsed since the second edition, and 15 since the first. Both were adopted on many courses worldwide. Given this passage of time, rather than adapting and updating material from previous editions we decided to start with a clean slate. Consequently, no chapters from previous editions were retained or updated. This is no reflection on their quality: many remain definitive and valid today, and readers would benefit from reading them alongside contributions in this edition. However, we decided to review the field of management accounting research afresh in order to ascertain key topics deserving of a chapter in this new edition, and to decide who might effectively write on them. We were fortunate that each author first approached responded positively, and on reflection we realised that the choice of contributors had become more international. Not only has management accounting practice become more global, so has the academic research community.

The contributions are organised in four parts that develop and advance important management accounting research themes. Part 1 examines the changing nature of management accounting, providing the context for Part 2’s focus on ‘new’ management accounting techniques and Part 3’s discussions of ‘new’ applications of management accounting. Part 4 presents contributions to understanding contemporary management accounting change and how the developments in management accounting theory and practice can be seen as a response to such change. However, the parts are not mutually exclusive – inevitably and rightly they overlap considerably.

The topics within these four parts are not dramatically different to those in the first edition, although research advances offer greater insights. For example, history remains central for explaining not only the past but also the present; behavioural issues surrounding control and change continue to be vital and perplexing; accounting’s role in public sector transformation persists and remains contentious; information technology developments increasingly transform the role of accountants and their control systems; consultants continue to offer ‘new’ (or repackaged old) techniques accompanied by frenetic rhetoric on the deleterious consequences of not adopting them; researchers remain divided theoretically, especially between the social theory and economic camps. In addition, management accounting continues to extend beyond issues of internal control, which emphasises manufacturing cost efficiency and stability. Now, it embraces wider strategic, inter-organisational, global and cross-cultural issues and it focuses on change and adaptation, value creation through knowledge production and innovation, and how new organisational forms pose challenges for conventional management accounting.

The part on the changing nature of management accounting pursues some themes contained in previous editions, most notably the effects of new philosophies of operations management and the rapidly changing information and communications technology. Chapter 1 by Hansen and Mouritsen and Chapter 3 by Dechow, Granlund and Mouritsen discuss these developments and note their often unexpected and dramatic effects, although readers are counselled against too readily assuming the demise of conventional management accounting. Chapter 2 by Jeacle examines the implications for management accounting of the growth of consumerism and the shift from standardised mass production to the niche retailing of fashion items in the face of the more variegated and fickle life-styles of consumers. This is an international phenomenon, certainly in richer societies, and mirrors how firms and markets are becoming more international.

Chapter 4 by Busco, Giovannoni and Riccaboni examines the effects of globalisation on the control structures of international organisations and considers whether a worldwide convergence of management accounting knowledge and practices is occurring. Chapter 5 by Harrison and McKinnon, which traces the effects of different national cultures on the efficacy of different types of management control, addresses practical concerns about how to manage the growing globalisation of business, the rapid diffusion of ideas internationally, and geographically dispersed organisations containing divergent cultures. In Chapter 6, Burns and Baldvinsdottir reflect on how change is impacting the role of management accountants. They argue that the major debate resides in whether the management accountant’s job is disappearing or merely being reconstituted, as new technologies and flatter, less functional organisational structures diminish the accountants’ ownership and control of organisational data. It may be that everyone is capable of becoming their own management accountant and consequently the role of management accountants (if that is what they will be called in the future) will be that of analysts serving multi-functional teams.

The first edition of this book noted how management accounting is subject to a stream of innovative new practices, often justified by berating the conventional practices, and equally often marketed by large, international firms of consultants. This remains so today. Hence, Part 2 examines the allegedly ‘new’ management accounting techniques; namely strategic management accounting, activity-based costing/management, balanced scorecards, strategic investment appraisal, and performance measurement systems. All the chapters in Part 2 note how the growth of strategic concerns has extended the management accounting domain. This is attributed to the growing sensitivity of businesses to heightened environmental threats and opportunities and the imperative to anticipate change and respond quickly. The growth of strategic management accounting issues is reviewed by Lord in Chapter 7, while more specific techniques are examined in the other chapters in this part.

Balanced scorecards, examined by Nørreklit and Mitchell in Chapter 9, are seen as an attempt to link strategic concerns to operational systems by identifying and controlling key factors that go beyond financial variables. Its antecedents lie in activity-based costing/management (ABC/M), which is examined by Major in Chapter 8. Retrospectively, ABC/M may be seen as an attempt to extend and improve control over the growing proportion of overheads in modern businesses. Moreover, value now accrues not only from production efficiency, but also from less tangible activities such as design, product development, product innovation and marketing. Hence the desire to measure and evaluate activities that were previously treated as an inevitable ‘burden’ and beyond detailed management accounting control. Chapter 10, in which Northcott and Alkaraan review developments in capital investment appraisal, extends this theme by noting how investment evaluation techniques can go beyond the financial and easily measurable factors to incorporate less tangible but vital elements of investment.

In Chapter 11 Fitzgerald picks up on the tension between, on the one hand, the ‘financialisation’ of measurement and control, wrought partly by greater short-termism induced by capital market pressures and, on the other hand, the need to identify, measure and monitor non-financial factors, and to reinforce them with appropriate performance evaluation and rewards. This chapter compares and contrasts such performance measurement systems as economic value added and the balanced scorecard, and examines their behavioural consequences. None of the contributions in this second part actually rejects the new techniques, but all show how research has revealed problems requiring consideration and/or resolution; thereby adding a note of caution to temper the claims of uncritical advocates of these new techniques.

While Part 2 focuses on techniques that seek to address emerging issues in contemporary organisations using a largely accounting-centric approach (albeit reformulated to incorporate other factors), Part 3 explores the challenges presented by the growing scope of management accounting and describes some of the new approaches being developed to meet them. Chapter 12 by Bouwens and Speklé links Parts 2 and 3 through an analysis of EVA (economic value added). Here, the possibilities of evaluating and rewarding activities using modern economic approaches are examined. The authors explore the desirable characteristics of performance measurement systems, and assess whether EVA adds value; concluding that it is no panacea. In Chapter 13 Kraus and Lind broaden the discussion to explore issues of management control in inter-organisational relationships, defined as various forms of cooperation between independent organisations; for example, joint ventures, strategic alliances, technology licensing, research consortia, strategic partnerships, supply chain relationships, business relationships, and outsourcing relationships. The chapter indicates some of the tools that can be used for inter-organisational control, but it is stressed that the appropriate tools will depend on the nature of the relationship.

The discussion is broadened further in Chapter 14 by Moll and Humphrey, who examine management accounting issues in the public sector; with a particular focus on the challenges presented by the Public Finance Initiative and Public–Private Partnerships (PFI and PPP). The chapter explores the role of, and key matters confronting, public sector management accountants in an era where considerable attention is devoted to matters of public sector financial management and the soundness of public finance and capital investment decisions. The final chapter in Part 3, Chapter 15 by Roberts, examines the role of management accounting in knowledge-based organisations. In modern advanced economies knowledge resources are an extremely important source of value and competitive advantage. The chapter argues that management accounting for knowledge resources does not require a radical overhaul of existing management accounting practices, but it does require a long and hard look at how they are used.

Having considered the broadening scope of management accounting in Part 3, Part 4 explores issues concerned with management accounting change. Chapter 16 by Modell reviews a number of influential strands within the growing research literature on management accounting change and assesses the relative merits and limitations of each. In particular, it discusses the factor studies that focus on the implementation of new ‘advanced’ management accounting techniques, as well as the more process-oriented research based on institutional theories which provide examples of both management accounting change and resistance to change. Continuing the theme of management accounting change, Chapter 17 by Ax and Bjørnenak examines a fundamental, but as yet poorly understood, phenomenon; namely, the origins of management accounting innovations and how are they diffused. Why is there a constant stream of new techniques, why do they wax and wane, how do they move to new locations, what drives this process, and who is involved? The chapter explores both the demand side (based on efficient choice theory) and the supply side (based on both the management fashion perspective and the market and infrastructure perspective).

We take a much longer time perspective on change by looking at the past in Chapter 18. In that chapter Fleischman and Funnell remind us not to be so preoccupied by novelty and newness that we neglect the relevance of the past for understanding contemporary problems. Their articulation of what history has to contribute to those wishing to understand the present should be read alongside the review of management accounting history by Ann Loft in the previous edition, for it presumes some knowledge of management accounting history on the part of the reader.

Finally, we come to the question of how to best study and theorise about management accounting practices. The last two contributions examine this issue with respect to economics (Chapter 19) and qualitative research (Chapter 20). In Chapter 19, Göx and Wagenhofer argue that from the perspective of economic research, management accounting provides information that is useful to decision-makers within the firm. The chapter presents some of the economic models that can be used to explore the decision-making role of management accounting information. The authors conclude that economic research complements other research methods to help us better understand management accounting practices. In Chapter 20, Vaivio provides an overview of some of these other research methods. The aim of the chapter is to build an understanding of qualitative research to enable the reader to appreciate the theoretical significance of fieldwork and case studies. The chapter presents a broad panorama of ideas about qualitative research in management accounting, and seeks to act as a counterweight to textbook idealisations, formalised economic models and consultancy products.

To summarise, whilst this new edition updates developments in ongoing research themes that were described in previous editions, it also contains new trends which have become more prominent in recent years. First, management accounting knowledge has become more global, as is reflected in the greater international diversity of the authors in this third edition. Today the management accounting research community transcends national boundaries, and changes in management accounting practice are linked to the rapid transfer of ideas across national borders. Also, the focus of management accounting is increasingly on managing transactions and organisations globally rather than nationally, as noted in the chapters dealing with cultural differences, change, control in multinational firms, and the diffusion of accounting innovations.

A second trend concerns the increasingly porous boundaries of organisations and the broadening scope of management accounting. The latter is marked by the changing composition of the costs that need to be controlled, the extension of KPIs and critical performance measurement variables (beyond the merely financial), the incorporation of external factors, and the changing role of the management accounting function (from scorekeeping to business analysis). Increasingly, competitive advantage and value added stem from non-manufacturing activities, which consequently are becoming major objects of management scrutiny and the focus of management accounting practices. The relative decline of manufacturing in advanced economies, or at least its export to cheaper developing countries, has prompted the growth of allegedly ‘new’ accounting techniques which offer the prospect of dissecting what was previously dismissed as an inscrutable ‘overhead burden’.

Third, changes in the global business environment have prompted an increasing interest in the role, if any, that management accounting can play in this new world. Many of these changes are reflected in this new edition, including the ‘hollowing out’ of manufacturing organisations in richer countries, whereby many manufacturing and service activities are sub-contracted offshore to lower cost countries, the recognition that competitiveness and value added lie in intelligent organisations and knowledge-based systems, and the social shift from production to consumerism, with shopping and retailing its apotheosis.

Fourth, a persistent undercurrent in many of the contributions is concern about the transformation and possible disappearance of the management accounting function. The automation of many of its routine activities, the greater integration of controls, and the growing need for advice and problem-solving, rather than routine reporting, are raising profound issues about the changing role of management accountants. Rather than relying on traditional techniques and tasks, the professional management accountant of the future will need new skills and training. The requirement to embrace broader roles will call for constantly updated management accounting knowledge, including the ability to access, generate and interpret research in its widest sense.

To conclude, the contributions assembled in this third edition describe advances across a broad range of contemporary management accounting topics. Their exposition of enduring research concerns and new, emergent themes offers fresh insights into many important topics and questions occupying contemporary management accounting researchers and practitioners. The resultant themes of change, adaptation and understanding combine to make this third edition of Issues in Management Accounting a significant advance on what has gone before and, we hope, a useful signpost for what is to come.

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