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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Management Accounting Research, Volume 19, Issue 1, March 2008, Pages 45–61
This paper draws on actor-network-theory, especially Law and Hassard [Law, J., Hassard, J. (Eds.), 1999. Actor Network Theory and After. Blackwell, Malden, MA] and Latour [Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to the Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford] to investigate how a division-wide management control system was created in a multinational enterprise. The empirical findings were gathered from different actors involved in the implementation of enterprise's ABC and ERP projects. Our study focuses on the ontological politics [Mol, A.-M., 1999. Ontological politics. A word and some questions. In: Law, J., Hassard, J. (Eds.), Actor Network Theory and After. Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 74–89] required for the creation of a new management control reality, and also on the interaction between objects and subjects with potential for creating new agencies [Latour, B., 1999. On recalling ANT. In: Law, J., Hassard, J. (Eds.), Actor Network Theory and After. Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 14–25; Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the Social. An introduction to the Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford]. In our case unit (one division of the enterprise), the new agency was labelled ‘virtual integration’, its purpose being to enable a new vision of the profitability of the division's production chain. Our results highlight the unstable and complex nature of such systems, which no doubt impedes their use. We contribute to the understanding of such systems, with a special emphasis on the use of metaphors in the political process that accounting information systems must pass through in order to become established as an enterprise-wide management tool.
Since the textbook ‘The Virtual Corporation’ by Davidov and Malone (1992), researchers have discussed the possibilities of electronic markets and value chains on the information superhighway (Benjamin and Wigand, 1995) and the role of ICT in organisation design (Lucas and Baroudi, 1994). In general, virtual organisation may be understood as a new kind of organisation structure or a novel visualisation in order to manage operations, in which ICT plays a major role (Bloomfield and Vurdubakis, 1997, Clarke and Clegg, 2000, Quattrone and Hopper, 2001b and Chapman and Chua, 2003). According to Hunton (2002, p. 56), “the blending of ICT and business process integration manifests itself in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, which serve as the foundation for linking multiple, related business entities into integrated supply chains”. The process of integrating independent business entities implies that management control must also be centralized. Today, the centralized control of large organisations requires ICT systems that make the periphery visible to the centre. In practice, large networks employing different ICT systems are constructed that collect data from local-level units and transfer it to headquarters to be analysed. This data collection process involves many tradeoffs and choices between various alternatives, with the result that only part of the information becomes management ‘facts’ while the rest of the information remains unseen by the top management. The differences in the information requirements of local levels and the headquarters have the potential to create ‘trading zones’ and local-level customized information systems (Dechow and Mouritsen, 2005 and Quattrone and Hopper, 2006). From an ICT perspective, this kind of system can be criticised for its complexity. ERPs can function as a data collection device, but they also exhibit complexity, which is evident from the numerous links to other information systems, updates of versions, data collection problems, the need for checkups, arranging information storage, etc. In practice it seems that for management control purposes the ERPs have to be supplemented with other information systems such as Excel, ABC software packages, BSC software packages, report generators, etc. (Quattrone and Hopper, 2006, Hyvönen et al., 2006 and Granlund, 2007). When investigating the role of such information systems as a part of management control, the object of research becomes a messy object in the sense of Law and Singleton (2005). In such cases, the unique and difficult-to-predict situation in which the system is constructed becomes very important for the creation of the object ( Quattrone and Hopper, 2001a, Dechow and Mouritsen, 2005 and Andon et al., 2007). Due to the messy and complex nature of large organisation's management control systems, it may be difficult to define the research object's boundaries exactly ( Quattrone and Hopper, 2001a, Andon et al., 2007 and Hyvönen et al., 2006). Because they are also decentralized geographically and are abstract in nature, the systems are always partially invisible to a single observer. Hence representing and visualizing systems becomes so important ( Bloomfield and Vurdubakis, 1997 and Quattrone and Hopper, 2001b). By creating various representations the messy object can be described in terms of another, with no need for the object itself being present ( Latour, 1987). This allows the creation of relevant facts out of complex and abstract issues, so that actors who participate in the process can understand and utilize them, i.e. making complex issues manageable ( Cooper, 1992, p. 255). As ICT objects are represented in various social frames, they can create different meanings and visions of the organisation ( Bloomfield and Vurdubakis, 1997). The prerequisite of such rational organisation of various meanings is the actors’ willingness to (re)cognize and (re)create their world and their work in terms of such constructs ( Bloomfield and Coombs, 1992). The study of centralized control mechanisms has evoked strong theoretical concepts (cf. Schulze and Orlikowski, 2001 and Lodh and Gaffikin, 2003) such as panopticon, a means of centralized totalitarian control where the objects of control will eventually end up controlling themselves ( Foucault, 1977 and Miller and O’Leary, 1987). However, we argue that in practice management accounting controls systems can only achieve a partial visibility, and partial forms of control. Such control systems can be called oligopticon ( Latour, 2005), which is a general term for locations that can be named, but that work contrary to panopticon: ‘they see much too little to feed the megalomania of the inspector or the paranoia of the inspected, but what they see, they see it well […] From oligoptica, sturdy but extremely narrow views of the (connected) whole are made possible – as long as connections hold.’ (Latour, 2005, p. 181) Such oligoptica are susceptible to errors—a small disturbance can blur vision entirely. Often, but not always, the controlling centres can be distinguished by their physical links to the objects observed. Even if the centre is immaterial, its maintenance requires action to be taken and various tools to be used. The object of our research is the development of such oligoptica in a European division of a multinational paper manufacturing enterprise. In technical terms, it is an ABC software application that collects data from the ERP system (via transfers in Excel) implemented in 11 factories all over Europe. This information is then used as a basis of various financial analyses in company headquarters in Helsinki. In management control terms, the ICT solution seeks to create a new centralized form of control, which allows the headquarters to see the financial situation of the factories better, and to create new facts for use in strategic decision-making. The findings of our study illustrate what is required for such accounting information technology (AIT) systems to function, and what limitations they have in management control. By so doing, we seek to increase the understanding of the political process of creating extremely complex management accounting and control systems (Mol, 1999, Andon et al., 2007 and Quattrone and Hopper, 2006). Since new management accounting and control solutions are currently being sought by implementing various accounting software and ICT solutions, we will pay special attention to the role of these new technologies in organising and presenting the case organisations’ social reality. The remainder of the paper is organised as follows. The next section describes the theoretical approach of our study as well as the process of data collection and analysis. Section 3 describes a relatively incremental process, which aims at creating a new management control system by setting up associations of different organisational actors relevant to the problem at hand. Sections 4 and 5 are centred on the analysis of the new management control system. The key findings are discussed in Section 6.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
ANT-based research on accounting information technologies has to date illustrated how little we know about the messy and continuously changing AIT realities in large organisations, and how the information systems influence management control (Briers and Chua, 2001; Quattrone and Hopper, 2001a, Quattrone and Hopper, 2001b, Quattrone and Hopper, 2005, Quattrone and Hopper, 2006, Dechow and Mouritsen, 2005 and Andon et al., 2007). In this study, we draw on the heuristic framework of Quattrone and Hopper (2001a) and present the development of a management accounting control system as a serendipitous process that illustrates the episodic nature of such processes. Actions are taken simultaneously in different geographical locations, with only a few key actors managing to hold the process together. For most of the time, the majority of actors are not connected, while new social actors emerge unobtrusively, in private or in small groups, enacting with IT (PowerPoint, Excel, Oros ABC, SAP, Phoenix). Only in few instances is a larger association of actors formed, but although these associations can prove to be decisive, their outcome cannot be planned in advance; see the concept of relational drift in Andon et al. (2007). Our findings suggest that IT accounting solutions seem to shape the organisation's social reality in two ways. First, the IT solutions virtually force accountants to study the logic of the solution, and second, they challenge them to invent ways of combining accounting and management rationalities. As actors, such as IT solutions, accountants and management are connected, this collection of actors begins to create its own agency and rationality that is not only accounting, IT or management, but also a new emerging rationality. In our case, the actor that connected the local rationalities in different factories together was the accounting software solution (OROS) and the action (the PMS project) that took place around it. As in Quattrone and Hopper (2005), our case study evidences the imperialistic agenda of the virtual integration to shrink the distance between geographically separated units by gathering detailed data on the factories and combining them into a virtual mill created by accounting reports. While this is a starting point we go on to investigate how the ideas concerning centralization of management control emerged, and what kind of choices the actors were able to make. It seems that the technical opportunity to centralize data management through IT solutions led to the idea of centralizing control and the creation of virtual integration. After the PMS project had been started and the ABC software solution had been selected, only top management could still influence the goals (the most obvious way would have been to restrict funding). Access to the new profitability information was granted only to the centre, while the periphery went on with its traditional reporting (q.v. the Think Pink case in Quattrone and Hopper, 2005). However, granting or not granting access to profitability reports was essentially a political decision and involved choices by the actors. Our case findings illustrate various local collections of AIT and other agents. A seemingly small assignment by the CFO to investigate the possibilities of utilising ABC methodology in SAP triggered a series of events that eventually challenged the existing management control system and which had the capacity to create new agencies. Taking on the assignment, the divisional controller started out to study and compare the opportunities provided by various off-the-shelf software solutions, which was the starting point for a new AIT agent that could create a local totality, i.e. an oligopticon (e.g. Latour, 2005). Then the agent, using the centralization theme as an incentive, persuaded top management to grant the right to compel factory accountants to associate and become part of the new agency. Central to this persuasion was the creation of representations of the management accounting software and the new visibilities that they enabled (see Bloomfield and Vurdubakis, 1997). Without these speculative representations it would probably have been quite difficult to communicate the idea to the top management. Our case findings suggest that in addition to being visual images (e.g. PowerPoint slides), representations can also be lingual metaphors (Schulze and Orlikowski, 2001 and Lodh and Gaffikin, 2003). For the division's top management, the representation was labelled ‘virtual integration’ while to factory accountants it was a ‘profitability management system’. As the project was ongoing, these metaphors were visualized by PowerPoint presentations, including speculative calculations with hypothetical numbers (since the actual numbers were unavailable at the time). After the project ended, the virtual integration metaphor was replaced by pipeline management. This illustrates how framing activities become important in establishing IT systems (see Bloomfield and Vurdubakis, 1997). Our case findings illustrate the dynamic interaction between the idea of reorganisation (centralized management control) and the representations of the IT system. Important political choices were made with respect to how to represent the system by visual images and metaphors, and to whom. In this political process it is extremely important to know the organisation's history, e.g. what metaphors have been used previously and what concepts are tainted. These findings extend the studies by Quattrone and Hopper (2006) and Andon et al. (2007) by illustrating the nature of inter-company politics and management behaviour in ERP implementation. Notably, our case organisation made use of off-the-shelf accounting software packages, which is a quite common practice (Granlund and Malmi, 2002, Hyvönen, 2003 and Granlund, 2007). However, our findings would warrant a question: how ‘ready-to-use’ and ‘packaged’ are these software packages? Even though a software package can offer ready solutions, the organisation's actors must construct its meaning through action, and this meaning must be continuously renewed in order to continue its existence socially. The process of framing then ‘customizes’ the ready-made off-the-shelf solutions as an organisational practice. In this sense, ready-made ICT systems, such as SAP or Oros, can provide competitive advantages, even though other companies are likely to have them, too. What counts in creating competitive advantage is not technical functionality, but how the system can serve management purposes—for instance, how our case organisation managed to reorganise its management control. In this respect, our findings support Bloomfield and Coombs (1992) according to whom framing was central in persuading the organisation to reorganise itself. The nature of oligopticon includes a propensity for errors (Latour, 2005) as their functioning depends on the existence of many AIS agencies and the connections between them. For instance, a local and unexpected technical problem with (Excel) spreadsheets in one of the factories may cause the system to lose its rationality and visibility at the centre may become blurred, at least for a while. The same goes for version updates, or process changes, that result in the inability of the system to produce interesting reports for top managers who then start to lose their AIS-based rationality. The continued existence of the virtual integration as a management control system required constant circulation between the AIS agencies, who had to re-enact the system in order to perpetuate its functioning. Some of the findings of this case study deal with the interaction between off-the-shelf accounting software solutions and management control redesign. However, we feel that several important questions remain unanswered and warrant further research. In particular, how do information systems influence management control system design—is it by limiting the choices available or making some alternatives seem less costly, less risky, or quicker to implement than others? Furthermore, how effective are these software solutions as a mimetic force, which creates similar accounting and management rationalities in different organisations? We would especially wish to see future research try to highlight the issue of how much choice and freedom of action is included in management control design when such readymade solutions are implemented, or whether these management control tool packages exhibit an in-built lack of alternatives that is not apparent at first sight.