Skillset to Assimilate Information Technologies in Accounting SMEs

Skillset to Assimilate Information Technologies in Accounting SMEs

Ku Maisurah Ku Bahador (Universiti Utara Malaysia, Malaysia) and Abrar Haider (University of South Australia, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6623-8.ch006


Competence in operating IT on one hand aids the routine business activities related to an accountants' work and on the other helps them create an environment where these technologies operate at their optimum level for the strategic internal and external advantage of the business. Recent studies indicate that accounting businesses are now customer-oriented, information-driven, project-based, flatter in structure, and consist of a number of functional and cross-functional teams. An all-encompassing skill set for accountants is therefore required, which not only caters for IT skills but also accounts for organisational, human, and interpersonal skills. This chapter presents an empirically tested integrated framework for competency development consisting of technical, organisational, people, and conceptual skill dimensions. This framework focuses on technical skills and calls for skills in areas that complement technical knowledge, so as to institutionalise competency development as an ongoing activity of an accountant's professional lifecycle.
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Information technologies are integral part of contemporary business environment. These technologies, on one hand, enhance the flow, usage, and management of business related information; and on the other hand, profoundly affect the way business is organised, executed, and is placed among competitive forces. Impact of information technologies, however, is particularly intense in service industries, such as accounting. In accounting industry, accountants deal with client information that potentially could reside in any number of data repositories, managed by any number of applications, and spread over unique technological and administrative configurations and settings. Accountants, therefore, not only have to competent in the use of existing technologies, and at the same time also have to continuously update their knowledge about emergent new technologies. Review of related literature suggests that information technologies skills development of accountants is focused on the operating knowledge. Organisations are more concerned about employees’ developing or acquiring technical know-how to perform routine jobs rather than becoming competent in the use and understanding of technologies, so as to handle them in any business environment. As a result, even though accountants may have knowledge of particular technology, there is no guarantee that they will be able to use this knowledge for optimum advantage of the organisation. Accountants, therefore, need to look beyond acquiring the elementary knowledge to operate information technologies and also acknowledge behavioural and conceptual skills that would help them become competent with information technologies related to their work.

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) defined competence as “being able to perform a work role to defined standards with reference to real working environments”(IFAC, 2003). In the context of IT, competence is identified as a set of IT-related knowledge and experiences that a knowledge worker possesses (Bassellier, Reich, & Benbasat, 2001). These competencies are imperative to enable accounting practitioners to perform their tasks (Wessels & Steenkamp, 2007). On one hand, these competencies aid the execution of the routine business activities related to accountant’s work. On the other hand, they help accounting organisations to create an environment where these technologies operate at their optimum level, thus contributing to the strategic internal and external advantage of the business. The literature indicate that only a few technologies such as word-processing skills, electronic spreadsheets, email, electronic search and retrieval and small accounting software packages were found to be adequate in studies that attempted to identify critical IT skills (Greenstein & McKee, 2004; Ismail & Abidin, 2009; Mgaya & Kitindi, 2008). It appears that current IT skills are not sufficient to allow accountants to benefit from the whole range of available IT hardware and software tools. Thus, the identification of a new, comprehensive set of IT competencies, together with a combination of IT skills and other skills (professional skills or soft skills), is necessary in order to produce accountants who are able to maximise IT utilisation in accounting and business processes.

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