At present, there is an argument about whether the role of the management accountant in organisations has changed when the business environment changed at the same time. The role of management accountants in organisations was measured by: (a) their skills requirements, and (b) the way other managers perceive them in their organisations (Tsamenyi and Yazfifar, 2005).In this essay, the author referred to a great number of literatures about this topic, and finally came to a conclusion that the role of management accountant in organisations has changed significantly accompanied by the changes of business environment over these years. Recently, management accountants in organisations did not just execute the traditional functions such as accumulation, analysis and preparation, and play the role like the “bean counter” and gathers of information that is useful and necessary for decision-makers (Choi, 2002). With the developments and changes of the business environment in some decades, the role of management accountant has changed into “business partner” and “strategic partner”, and taken the charge of interpretation, evaluation, control and involvement in decision-making (Choi, 2002).
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The status of the role of management accountant in organisations has been paid enough attentions in these years. Not only academic and professional staff made a huge number of accounting literatures, but also many related people that are not in accounting subject provided increasingly number of research evidences of this area. They all finally came to a point that the changing business environment caused the change of the role of management accountant in organisations. So the first aspect to research the topic is to evaluate the changes of the business environment. Further more, the second aspect is to find the changes of the role of management accountant in organisations. At last, the conclusion of this essay is to build a bridge between the changing business environment and the changes of the role of management accountant in organisations.
The changing business environment
If people tend to make a clear view of the change, they should get a specific understand of the business and business environment. As a sequence, this survey initially concentrated on the changing business environment. According to the management accounting professionals declared, the principle issue that caused the change of the role of management accountant in corporation is the increasingly fierce competition (Hoque et al., 2001; Krishnan et al., 2002).The new business environment just reflected this kind of competition. In the new business environment, it gave the expression to escalating globalization, fresh regulations that focused on corporate governance, changeable markets, new organizational structures, mergers and acquisitions, new management practices, rapid reaction speed, increasingly intelligent information technology and a potential trend of a more elastic corporation structure because of the need to deal with market requisition and more (Askary et al ,2008). In some surveys, people see the changes of “information technology” and “organizational restructuring” as the most two important issues caused the change of the role of management accountants in organizations. And “new accounting software” and “new management style” are other two significant change drivers (Tsamenyi and Yazfifar, 2005).
For example, a significant change of the business environment is the change of management accounting practices. There are so many new management accounting techniques had been innovated and implied in business these years. Some experts claimed that the changes of management accounting practices are administrative innovations (Hart and Roslender, 2002). Whether these changes could be successful or not, they are depended on how well behavioral and organizational implications are dealt with. So the process of these changes meets a huge organizational stress, clash and revolt. And these negative issues may cause failure of the innovation (Hart and Roslender, 2002). In this area, the most important issue is the innovation of Strategic Management Accounting (SMA). SMA was considered as the common-sense approach to the matters emerged in a changing business environment (Hart and Roslender, 2002). Some experts claimed accountants did a large number of benefits by using SMA to strategy formulation and implementation. Some researchers suggested accountants to change their views from traditional accounting issues to concern more business factors. Some persons seen SMA was a tool to help accountants promote their status in organizations (Hart and Roslender, 2002). As a so hot topic, there is no a common conceptual framework about SMA. One definition (Hart and Roslender, 2002) accepted by some people is:
“The provision and analysis of management accounting data about a business and its competitors for use in developing and monitoring the business strategy, particularly relative levels and trends in real costs and prices, volume, market share, cash flow and the proportion demanded of a firm’s total resources.”
In 1981 that SMA was found, Simmonds set a view that the role of management accountants were changed from a pure financial worker to a more important position that need to gain a business opinion and hold the ability of the understand of business environment and represent changes in competitive position to senior management (Hart and Roslender, 2002).
To illustrate, intelligent information development is a more important reason that caused the change not only in the past, but also it is going to influence the role of management accountant in companies in the future even for ever (Management Accounting, 1998). Meanwhile, the development of intelligent information occurred in every industry, business aspect and country. It is an obvious trend that computers deal with more daily work (Management Accounting, 1998). People who can hold the ability to learn and master IT and apply advantages of IT to daily works fully, they will gain benefits of a broader and more flexible role, with bigger management responsibilities, and maybe more rewards, and more frequently join in business strategy (Management Accounting, 1998). The application of IT into business work impacted not only on the role of management accountant in organizations, but also on the relationship between management accounting and other function (Management Accounting, 1998).
There is another specific example that could be seen as the impact of the changing business environment caused on the role of management accountant. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are the chief innovation in the business world as an information technology for companies to get information in 1990 (Kholeif and Jack, 2007). As a result, there are a good many of researches to investigate how the ERP systems to influence management accountant on work. One finding in researches of this topic is the role of management accountants in ERP environments seems to be subject to hybridisation, that means the role broadens to include other business and information movement or other people broaden their roles to take charges that accountant do (Kholeif and Jack, 2007). Consequently, the role of management accountants is changing from those traditional functions towards “business partner” and “strategic partner”. In spite of this, the use of ERP system yet may hurt the role of management accountant as information suppliers because the chief managers can gain information they need directly without through accountant report (Kholeif and Jack, 2007).
In recent years, there is another vitally important development concept in management accounting called “Balanced Scorecard”. It contains two aspects of changes compared with old accounting system. At one hand, it introduced an incorporation of non-financial measures. At the other hand, it joined these measures with organisational strategy (Choi and Latshaw, 2002). This means the top management of corporations could use “Balanced Scorecard” to strengthen strategies, introduce these strategies to all of the company, and assess the organisation’s process that pursues the goals of the strategies. At the same time, management accountants also adopt this concept in their works. This helps them enhance their status in companies as important management team partners.
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The changes of the role of management accountant in organizations
It is a well known statement that management accounting practices that mainly include management accounting techniques, information and/or systems have nearly kept been stable in the greater part of a century (Johansson, 1990; Kaplan, 1986b). As a result, it can be concluded that traditional management accounting practices lost the ability of gaining useful information and giving full play in management decision-making in the changing business environment. With the changing business environment, the role of management accountants in organizations also changed obviously.
One obvious example of the changes of t management accountants caused by the innovation of “Balanced Scorecard” could be found in the article “Counting More, Counting Less: Transformations in the Management Accounting Profession.”(Choi and Latshaw, 2002) In the essay, the authors compared differences of management accounting professions between 1995 and 1999 about accountants in IMA (Institute of Management Accountants). They found some aspects of the changes. First, there are more people considered management accountants gain more benefits for corporations in 1999 than the number in 1995 (Choi and Latshaw, 2002). Second, more workers were aware that management accountants were not only worked for accounting department, they also worked in operating sections as part of business team (Choi and Latshaw, 2002). Third, professors searched that management accountants used more time in internal consulting and the most important action for them is the strategic planning (Choi and Latshaw, 2002). At last, people claimed that management accountants in companies took charges of both “business partner” and “strategic partner”. The vital reason of these changes is that management accountants in organisations take use of “Balance Scorecard” as a powerful tool to show their abilities to senior managers and strengthen their role as strategic partners (Choi and Latshaw, 2002).
With the emergence of a specific accounting practice called Strategic Management Accounting (SMA), the role of management accountants also greeted clear changes. From the research of Bhimani and Bromwich, there two major ways of strategic management accounting: “One tends to cost the product attributes provided by a company’s products; the other is to cost the functions in the value chain which provide value to the consumer” (Bromwich & Bhimani, 1994). According to findings of Inman (1999), there are some points of differences between traditional and strategic management accounting: The first significant difference is the way that how cost should be cost; the second difference is the cost analysis goals; the last difference is the cost behavior. SMA put emphasis on the relative cost position; the approach a corporate may keep a continual cost advantages and costs of differentiation. As a result, the new kind of accounting practice requires management accountants to gain more abilities and broaden their horizon from their usual work, put more eyes on general management, strategies making and implement, marketing and product development (Hart and Roslender, 2002).
In modern society, intelligent information development is a common driver caused changes in many areas. The role of management accountants in organizations also changed with this trend. If management accountants want to be competent at their positions, they should possess the ability to stay ahead of change. They need to know well the latest information technology software, as the same time get a comprehensive comprehension of the business (Anastas, 1997). Consequently, there are some changes and trends happened for management accountants. The first trend was more and more management accountants became senior managers such as chief executive officers or chief operating officers, and the responsibility of accountants also changed from just analysis of past to strategic planning (Anastas, 1997). The reason of this phenomenon was because of the ability of accountants that they can translate financial data and results to strategic planning word. The second change was under the pressure of the development of information technology, management accountants became advisors or internal consultants (Anastas, 1997). Accountants now join in the activities such as creating strategies and recommendations to influence management decisions. Management accountants play the role as a pivot among different departments. Heading accountants are the centre point to ensure companies on track. The third change is management accountants increasingly involved in decision-making activities (Anastas, 1997). They no longer just do book-keeping; they also make decisions for the whole company strategies. The forth change is management accountants became information managers because they are always the first consumers of new technology (Anastas, 1997). As a result, accountants usually adjusted more quickly and smoothly to new information technology than other departments in organizations. Accountants used the new technology to transform their eyes from looking backward to looking forward. So accountants could use new technology to calculate and forecast future environment the corporation will meet. Even sometimes accountants became sellers rather that reporters as the reason that they can sell the suggestions they got from the new information about what to do in the future (Anastas, 1997).
As been found the changes of business environment and the changes of the role of management accountants in organizations and the relationship between two kinds of changes, the conclusion could be gained. As a clear research finding, the major changes in business environment are these aspects: communications and information technology, organisational restructuring, globalisation and internationalisation and improvements and new innovations of management accounting practices (Management Accounting, 1998). And the major functions of management accountants these years focused on: design and improve the information systems of companies (especially understand and make use of IT system), give suggestions for business projects, join in strategic planning (plan and operate business and marketing objectives), deal with customer’s demands and taxation matters (Management Accounting, 1998). To summarise these aspects in some common and incisive points, the changes of the role of management accountants in organisations are chiefly as these respects: Firstly, the role of management accountants has been changed to business partners in corporations. They joined in more and more activities in functional departments, and they also participated in the plan and renew of information. Secondly, management accountants increasingly move their location from offices towards more near to plants. Thus they can get more specifically understanding of the business. This is also a clear point about accountants now play the role as business partners and they usually joined in a project from the just beginning and decision of results, and take charge of all outcomes. Thirdly, management accountants now naturally are seen as members of management team and business managers because their unique knowledge of finance and accounting can take huge benefits for management actions (O’Dea and Pierce, 2003). In one sentence, the role of the management accountant has changed in recent years from traditional accounting functions to that of a strategic planner and a business partner in the changing business environment.
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