Exploring the programmability of management accounting work for increasing automation: an interventionist case study

Tuomas Korhonen*, Erno Selos, Teemu Laine, Petri Suomala

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to better understand management accounting automation by exploring the programmability of management accounting work. Design/methodology/approach: We build upon the literature on digitalization in management accounting and draw upon the pragmatic constructivist methodology to understand how digitalization takes place at the individual actors' level in accounting practice. The paper uses a data set from an interventionist case study of a machinery manufacturer. Findings: We examine an actual process of automating management accounting tasks. During this development process, surprisingly, calculation tasks remained more fit for humans than machines though, initially, they were thought to be programmable. Research limitations/implications: According to our findings, practitioners may interpret experts' nonprogrammable work tasks as programmable and seek to automate them. Only identifying the factual possibilities for automating accounting-related work can lead to automation-improved efficiency. Our findings can be increasingly relevant for advanced analytics initiatives and applications within management accounting (e.g. robotic process automation, big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence). Practical implications: Practitioners need to carefully analyze the entity they wish to automate and understand the factual possibilities of using and maintaining the planned automatic system throughout its life cycle. Originality/value: The paper shows that when processes are assessed from a distance, the nonprogrammable management accounting tasks and expertise can become misinterpreted as programmable, and the goal of automating them has little chance of success. It also shows possibilities for human accountants to remain relevant in comparison to machines and paves the way for further studies on advanced decision technologies in management accounting.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)253-280
    Number of pages28
    JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
    Issue number2
    Early online date2020
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2020
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Automation
    • Digitalization
    • Interventionist research
    • Management accounting
    • Pragmatic constructivism
    • Programmable


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