New systems of survival

Management accountants have to be on top of the latest developments in IT

"Management accountants provide information to help make decisions about the running of a business. To produce the data managers need - often qualitative as well as quantitative - they may need to use sophisticated IT systems," says Louise Ross, advisory accountant at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

Management accountants have to use their judgement about what information is needed by their company directors, and how to collect, analyse and present it. They need to understand their company's information needs, design systems capable of collecting information and consider how to present it to management in the most appropriate format.

In this age of information, the collection and analysis of data needs to be undertaken quickly and intelligently, and that is why information technology is at the forefront of modern management accountancy. When studying for their CIMA qualification, management accountants learn the principles of financial and management accountancy. Financial accounting software covers basic book-keeping functions, aimed at producing final published accounts information and controlling fixed assets, while specific management accountancy software applications include budgeting, costing and forecasting, and investment appraisal.

As they grow in experience, management accountants may become involved in system design, as part of an in-house team; or will draw up the specifications for bespoke solutions provided by external suppliers. They are also often involved in the integration of different IT systems.

Despite what amounts to a strategic IT approach akin to a "systems analyst", management accountants are not generally "techies". They don't need to be able to build computers or write programs, but they do need to understand how IT can serve their organisation. Information technology is a key feature of the CIMA syllabus, but the fact that students are asked to explain the processes of system design, evaluate the use and relative merits of different hardware or analyse and identify opportunities for the use of information technology in organisations, speaks volumes about the management accountant's relationship with IT.

"Yes, IT is a useful tool," says George Glass, company secretary at Balfour Timber Limited and a member of CIMA's Council. "But in order to take advantage of what it has to offer, you have to understand the problem you're trying to solve, what exactly you're trying to achieve. From there on, you might be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of software packages, talking to software providers, drawing together the information so you can work out how to move forward."

While CIMA is not a tuition provider, it does quality assure the various colleges and other providers who actually teach CIMA students. In order to ensure management accountants are knowledgeable about IT, the CIMA syllabus specifies what students need to study and what they are expected to be able to do in order to be considered for CIMA membership. "At a basic level we expect all members to develop computer literacy using proprietary software packages, including spreadsheets and databases, the internet and corporate intranets," says Ross.

Members are also expected to have hands-on experience of defining the information requirements of the organisation; identifying and evaluating appropriate information systems and managing the process of information gathering, processing, storage and retrieval.

Because no two businesses work the same way, the tools the management accountants use can vary immensely. As Glass puts it, in terms of knowledge about software "the commonality finishes with Excel", meaning most management accountants get most of their hands-on IT training on the job. "The management accountant is driven by the environment he finds himself in, by the nature of the business and the information systems already in place. So detailed knowledge of particular software packages is less important than knowledge of what drives the business. The emphasis needn't rest with the technology - if you're reasonably competent, you can pick up new IT skills in no time. It's those principles of how to manage information that really count."

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...