EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Anecdotal evidence points toward a growing gap between the information technology (IT) skills demanded of management accountants and those supplied by higher education. To ascertain how much and which IT skills are taught in management accounting courses, we sent a comprehensive, Web-based management accounting/IT survey to management accounting educators in the colleges and universities of North America. The analysis of survey data reveals that the extent of IT content in management accounting curricula leaves much to be desired. We discuss implications of the survey findings and suggest directions for restructuring management accounting curricula.
In corporate America, management accounting traditionally provided managers with the information essential for making strategic business decisions. Before the proliferation of information technology (IT), most data was in paper form, and management accountants manually collected and processed it for management decision making. Thus, production of information and its use by corporate managers went hand-in-hand without losing the vital links that connected it to management accounting activities.
Rapid IT advancements in the 1990s, however, significantly transformed business data processing. Developments such as large data storage systems and efficient information retrieval contributed to the effectiveness of management information systems, and corporate management accounting systems integrated IT into their practices. IT is now viewed as a core business driver and a key to generating profits in highly competitive environments. (1) Spending on IT by American corporations, large or small, has increased rapidly. (2) With proper integration of IT into management accounting, a postmodern chief financial officer who uses IT can practice management accounting far more effectively than a CFO without such integration. (3)
When looking at current management accounting texts, however, there is a deep void in the coverage of essential topics related to IT concepts widely used in business practices, such as data warehousing and data mining. Management accounting textbooks continue to focus on concepts based on manually driven business information processing. When weighed against concerns about information literacy in organizations, these trends present a perplexing IT paradox.
IT IN MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING CLASSROOMS
IT-related topics are typically covered in accounting information systems (AIS) or management information systems (MIS) courses, with the hope that students will integrate knowledge from both the IT and management accounting perspectives. In many traditional accounting programs, there are few opportunities for students to take elective courses that go beyond the basic AIS/MIS courses and examine IT in further detail. Consequently, students often are unable to visualize links between the two disciplines unless instructors show them relevant examples and challenge them with rich exercises. Ignorance abets the reluctance of students to embrace IT. While some students may venture into the emerging knowledge base and self-learn the necessary skill sets in the workplace, they are a small exception.
As IT becomes increasingly embedded in business transactions, it is imperative that students have proper training from both IT and management accounting perspectives. Management accounting education also may help resolve the IT paradox that shows a lack of correlation between productivity and investment in technology. (4)
SURVEY OF EDUCATORS
Given the importance of IT in the business world, we surveyed accounting instructors about the content and integration of technology in management accounting curricula. Based on previous studies published by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA[R]), we designed a questionnaire that focused on a variety of IT-related skills deemed important in a management accounting career. …