Roles of Accounting Information in Managerial Work

Abstract: Managerial work has been described as fragmented, action-oriented, and highly interpersonal, leaving limited room for formal planning and analysis. Even so, managers are expected to engage with accounting information for planning and analysing their area of responsibility. Accounting information has, however, been found to be tardy, aggregated, and incomplete, leading managers to rely on a wide set of additional informational resources. Still, managers’ doings and concerns tend to remain largely in the background in much management accounting research, which leaves us with limited knowledge of how accounting information comes into play in managers’ work. Moreover, technologies aimed at accommodating managers’ information needs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and allow for timelier and more precise accounting information. This gradual transformation of technologies has led to questions concerning how management accounting is practised, and how it is related to accounting information systems. The aim of this dissertation is to identify roles of accounting information in managerial work in order to better understand the link between managerial work and management accounting systems. The dissertation consists of two volumes, each with three papers and a summary appraisal. The empirical material consists of interviews with a cross-sectional sample of mainly first-line managers, and a study of a construction firm including interviews with higher- and lower-level managers, observations of workshops where higher-level managers and staff discuss the management accounting systems, and internal documents. Overall, this dissertation suggests four roles of accounting information, based on its capacity to serve as representation, translation, key and perspective. Essentially, these roles reflect the ability of accounting information to both aggregate and disaggregate “reality”. The potential of each of these roles is shaped by managerial, organisational and technological issues, and is not always easily realised. The potential of these roles is particularly challenged in an environment with many local contexts. By accentuating what makes accounting information more and less valuable vis-à-vis other informational resources, this dissertation adds clarity to the emerging body of literature on managers’ situated use of accounting information, and to the debate on information technologies and management accounting.