A big topic at this year’s ACMAR conference at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, which had a record number of participants and papers submitted, was digitalization and its impact on management accounting and the finance function. Opening the event, Professor Dr. Utz Schäffer said "It’s hard to understand why a topic that is such a burning issue in practice has been neglected by academics so far.” Addressing this shortfall, two of the three keynotes expanded on the opportunities and risks associated with the topic.
The Annual Conference for Management Accounting Research (ACMAR) at WHU has firmly established itself as a regular meeting place for the international academic management accounting community. The conference, held in Vallendar on March 9-10, took place for the fourteenth time this year. Featuring three keynote speeches, parallel sessions, roundtable sessions, and a doctoral colloquium, the conference provided an ideal platform for the community to discuss recent management accounting research. 150 professors, researchers, and doctoral students from around the world took advantage of this opportunity.
In the opening keynote, Frank Moers of Maastricht University dealt with a fundamental management accounting topic, namely the target setting process. Based on an empirical study carried out in the USA and Europe, his presentation suggested a host of avenues for future research. In particular, he focused on the interaction between the various objectives of target setting - motivation, fairness, and coordination - as well as on alternative characteristics of target setting processes.
Christian Klein, Chief Controlling Officer and Chief Operating Officer of SAP, delivered his keynote on SAP´s digital transformation and its consequences for the controlling function. He had an encouraging message for the conference participants: Machines will only take over standard tasks, such as reporting, while the important field of analytics will still be dominated by controllers in future. However, this means that controllers will require new skills. Getting straight to the point, he said “I used to look for Excel wizards; these days it is data scientists to turn big data into big insights”.
In the third keynote, Paolo Quattrone of the University of Edinburgh warned that the flood of data available today should be treated critically. He started by giving a brief history of the development of accounting. The use of numbers to communicate problems in a balanced way has always been a central function of accounting. However, due to recent technological developments the scope for personal judgement has been continuously restricted. Whether the question Quattrone posed at the beginning – does digitalization make management control wiser? – can be answered positively, is therefore by no means certain.
The next Annual Conference for Management Accounting Research (ACMAR) will take place in Vallendar on March 8-9, 2018.