The Emergence of Accounting Information Systems Programs: As More and More Companies Seek out Accounting Professionals with IT Skills, Some Universities Now Are Offering a Major in Accounting Information Systems, Which Mixes Topics from Each Area to Provide Students with the Requisite Skills Employers Want

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As we begin the 21st century, business organizations are facing an explosion of global competition and innovation. Facilitating this explosion is the increasing ability of organizations to make good business decisions based on the large amounts of information their enterprise produces. Economists predict that by 2010 the majority of American workers will be knowledge workers--those who make their living working with information. (1) In this environment, it is necessary for a successful business to integrate information technology into its basic processes, and, to do that, it needs qualified, skilled information technology employees. In addition, these organizations need executive management and other functional workers who have IT skills. (2) In fact, a company needs all its workers--accountants and financial executives included--to have a high level of computer and technical skills. Organizations are now attempting to hire college graduates who have this level of technical skill, but universities are struggling to determine the appropriateness of their curricula to meet this growing need. (3)


Recognizing these worker trends and economic conditions, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) report the need for computer and information technology concepts to be a part of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of accounting professionals. Both say accounting professionals should be able to apply productivity improvement software, such as spreadsheets and accounting-specific software, and be able to interpret, integrate, and implement information technology.

In its report, the AICPA cites five core competencies to guide its members: (1) communication and leadership, (2) strategic and critical thinking, (3) customer focus, (4) interpretation of converging information, and (5) technological skills. (4) IMA's 1999 Practice Analysis identified four work activities that are now expected to consume more of an internal accountant's time: (1) long-term strategic planning, (2) internal consulting, (3) computer systems and operations, and (4) process improvement. (5) It also identified the most important knowledge, skills, and abilities accountants had developed in the prior five years: computer skills, technology and networks, accounting software, teaching or mentoring, speaking and communications, and project management.

In the last 15 years, accounting information technology has transformed from an environment dominated by expensive mainframe computers that were programmed by specialized information system staff to user-friendly, integrated Internet-based systems. (6) The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the entry-level accountant now include the application and integration of information technology into the accounting process, as well as financial and managerial accounting principles. Organizations rely on the new generation of accountants to be familiar with today's systems and to prepare for those of tomorrow. To accomplish this, they must have technical skills and conceptual knowledge of accounting information systems. (7)


In 1990, the Accounting Education Change Commission, a committee of business leaders appointed by the American Accounting Association (AAA), recommended to accounting educators that students learn and understand more about accounting systems. (8) The faculty of leading undergraduate accounting programs in the United States responded to the Commission's recommendations by initiating one or more of the following changes: (1) significantly increasing the amount of information systems coverage in graduate and undergraduate accounting classes; (2) creating undergraduate and graduate "accounting systems" courses that cover topics such as transaction cycles, information technology, databases, the systems development life cycle, internal controls, and fraud detection and deterrence; (9) (3) shifting graduate program coursework in the direction of accounting information systems (AIS); and (4) incorporating a significant amount of cross-disciplinary content that combines courses from both accounting and information systems departments. …


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