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Roger Debreceny, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Mary B. Curtis, University of North Texas
The Journal of Information Systems is the premier journal in the accounting information systems (AIS) domain. The journal’s primary role is to inform theory and practice in accounting and auditing, in any way that draws upon computerized information systems. Our first task in embarking on our partnership as Senior Editors of JIS was to develop a shared vision for the journal. We see JIS playing an innovative, forward looking role in fostering understanding of the nature and implications of AIS. In this editorial, we set out our vision for the types of research that we hope to see published over our term. We first analyze the professional and institutional context in which AIS is practiced and researched. We then define what we see as the nature and boundaries of accounting information systems. We discuss how research in AIS draws from and informs research in cognate disciplines. Then we describe areas of research that we see as being particularly needed in our rapidly changing technology environment. In doing so, we do not wish to confine the types of research submitted to JIS but rather to highlight some areas that either have been overlooked in the past or which are now on the horizon. This is followed by a discussion of the classes of research methodologies that are welcome at JIS. Finally, we feature some of the changes in the editorial process that will help achieve our objectives for authors, reviewers, editors and – most importantly – for readers.
It is clear, from a variety of professional authorities, that accounting information systems (AIS) plays an increasingly critical role in the practice of accounting and auditing within organizations, and in the nature and shape of the accounting profession. For example, the final report of the Pathways Commission states that “Accounting information is how businesses communicate, attract resources, and decide how to reconfigure themselves in a world where technology continually accelerates the pace of change” (AAA/AICPA 2012, 24). The report goes on to state that “businesses are processes, not buckets of accounting information,” and warns that the accounting community must gain an understanding of the technology and dynamic business processes that run companies of the 21st century, or the accounting profession has the potential to become obsolete (AAA/AICPA 2012, 68). The AICPA’s CPA Horizons 2025 report observes the impact of information technology primarily from a perspective of IT’s impact on the accounting profession (AICPA 2011). The report notes that: “In a world driven by technology, CPAs leverage both knowledge of the risks and advantages offered by technology and CPA knowledge and skills to enhance their work.” Further, the report notes that “CPAs must stay current with, embrace and exploit technology for their benefit for increased efficiency and expansion of services” (AICPA 2011, 16). The report addresses several implications of technology for the CPA profession, including: use of IT for reporting to stakeholders; adoption by the profession of mobile technologies and social media; and enhanced methodologies for fraud detection. This catalog is reflected in our current AIS research agenda. The intellectual endeavors of the AIS research community are, then, vital for the future of the accounting and auditing profession.
We assert that there is almost total reliance in accounting and auditing on computerized information systems. We see enhanced innovation in the building of solutions for accounting and auditing, as well as data repositories for all organizational users. Organizational members increasingly access accounting information systems directly or construct shadow systems for purposes of their own analyses and reporting, bypassing accounting and MIS in the process. Increasingly, successful organizations are those whose decision makers make the best use of information resources (Borthick 1992). Within these organizations, IT is key for value generation. While IT brings its own risks to the organization, IT systems are central to enterprise risk management. In essence, information technology plays a ubiquitous role in all aspects of the lives of individuals and of organizations.
The Accounting Information Systems (AIS) section of the American Accounting Association and the Journal of Information Systems, in particular, play important roles in understanding, communicating and advancing the role of accounting information systems in business and in accounting education. For example, over the last three years there have been papers published in JIS on essentially all of the AICPA’s top 10 technology initiatives for 2013 (AICPA/CPAC 2013).
We define AIS as a discipline that sits between accounting and auditing, on the one hand, and management information systems and computer science, on the other (Debreceny 2011) (Figure 1). As Steinbart (2009, 2) notes, “the field called AIS is not just a part of accounting, or just a part of information systems, but also possesses its own unique identity”.
Figure 1: Pathways Commission (AAA/AICPA 2012)
The study of AIS is necessarily multi-disciplinary. We employ theory and practice from the cognate disciplines of MIS and computer science as well as from accounting, auditing and the disciplines of economics, management, psychology, sociology, philosophy and history (Figure 2, with apologies to Tuttle (2005)).
Figure 2: Intersection of AIS and Cognate Research Domains
Our emphasis on the need to align AIS research to accounting and auditing should not be interpreted as our being hostile to MIS and computer science research, or other behavioral sciences. To the contrary, we welcome and strongly encourage research papers that come from these domains. All that we ask is that the paper explains to the reader how the research assists innovation or understanding of IT in accounting and auditing. Here are a couple of examples. There are very active research agendas in business process management and process mining. These agendas have clear linkages with areas such as auditing, internal control, and management accounting. Researchers in the electronic commerce domain have paid particular attention to the roles of recommenders and recommender systems. These systems have potential to influence the adoption of new technologies within accounting professional services firms or accounting functions within organizations. What we ask of authors who submit papers from other domains is to clearly show how their research aligns with AIS, accounting or auditing research or practice and/or has implications for these research domains. As Senior Editors, we have instituted an active environmental scanning program, reaching out to potential authors who may not have considered JIS as an outlet for their work. An important component of that program involves pre-screening papers to mentor authors in identifying AIS-relevant implications and contributions for their work.
One of the implications of this mandate is that we are open to any and all research methodologies. In the early stages of technological and institutional innovation, design science research will be appropriate. Equally, axiomatic and analytical research can play an important role in developing an understanding of the field. Much of our work as AIS researchers is understand and map the effects of IT within organizations. Case study, survey, field study and participant observer techniques are appropriate research methodologies for this purpose. The AIS research community has a long and distinguished history of applying behavioral approaches and we expect this to continue. Similarly, researchers employ archival techniques to address questions that can be answered with publicly available information. We welcome all these methodologies. Our primary criteria for accepting papers are quality, relevance and clear communication with the AIS community.
We continue with the well-established academic research and practice sections in JIS. The role of the practice section is to communicate to an audience of researchers the nature and implications of developments in practice. Practice section papers may include data, typically descriptive in nature. We reiterate the plea for innovation in AIS research (Stone 2002, Tuttle 2005) and continue the role of innovation editor, for papers that address leading edge information technologies or applications, or which employ new or unusual research methodologies. Under the editorial leadership of Faye Borthick, innovation papers may appear in either the academic research or practice sections. A section in JIS we have introduced are research letters, to rapidly communicate results for time-sensitive questions.
An unfortunate, development in academia is the consideration of research ethics, particularly data validity. The AAA Publications Ethics Task Force is designing standards which every AAA journal will adopt. For example, submissions now undergo a rigorous screening process for unattributed materials with the manuscript. Policies on authorship and plagiarism have been approved, and a policy on data validity is in draft form. In regard to data validity, we believe that replication serves an important role in encouraging quality research, and discouraging unethical research practices. We, therefore, invite replications of previously-published AIS research and have set out expectations for such submissions in our Editorial Policy.
We take over a journal that is in an excellent state. Under the leadership of Senior Editor Miklos Vasarhelyi, JIS has grown to publish a significant amount of important and vital research. Calls for research on special topics in areas such as virtual worlds, XBRL and IT governance have shown that the AIS domain is alive and well. We build on the groundwork of prior Senior Editors in several ways. First, we are actively seeking commentaries from practitioners with a goal of educating our readership on important practice topics and inspiring future research. Pairing these practitioners with academic partners has ensured an academic focus to the discussion. We have also invited the former Senior Editors to write commentaries on the state of AIS research since their editorship. Second, we continue the practice of calls for research on special topics, including Information Security and Ethical Issues in AIS. Third, we have taken this notion further, however, by organizing small annual research conferences. These are built around specific topics, with papers to be published in JIS. The first conference in 2015 (JISC2015) addresses IT audit, an important issue for our AIS community. Planning of the 2016 conference (JISC2016) is underway with big data as the theme. Each of the conferences will feature close co-operation with the profession and active participation of practitioners in the review of papers and in the discussions at the conference. Diane Janvrin and David Wood will co-edit JISC2015, and Faye Borthick and Rick Dull will co-edit JISC2016.
Fourth, we have expanded the book report section to include all types of knowledge resources, under the expert guidance of Eileen Taylor, our Knowledge Resources editor. Knowledge resources include blogs, Twitter feeds, professional Websites, as well as the more traditional book reviews. One of the more important aspects of the knowledge resources section is to encourage senior professionals and academics to provide their insights on how they maintain currency in such a rapidly changing technological and institutional environment. Fifth, we are seeking to communicate the quality of research published in JIS to those who may not be familiar with the journal. An article in this issue provides a critical assessment of the current impact of JIS on promotion and tenure decisions (Janvrin et al. 2015). Addressing issues raised by their survey, we have created a document, intended for use by deans, promotion and tenure committees, and our authors, that details the importance and rankings of the journal on a national and international level. We are heightening the online profile of JIS with a re-engineered Website with a Senior Editor’s blog and presence on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
An important part of the role of the senior editors is to measure performance of the Journal of Information Systems. One component of our vision for the journal is that the review process should add value on two key dimensions. First, it assists authors to improve the quality and enhance the fit of their papers to the JIS mission. Second, it provides a quality assurance screen that ensures that JIS publishes high quality and relevant papers. Our ambition is to provide a welcoming, productive, and responsive review process. There are many different ways that we can understand how well JIS is fulfilling its mission. One of the very important dimensions is to quantify the quality of author feedback. For this purpose, we borrow a tool frequently employed in the corporate world called 360-degree feedback, where supervisors review subordinates, subordinates review subordinates, subordinates review superiors. The 360-degree process at JIS involves senior editors, editors and reviewers as well as authors. 360-degree feedback commences shortly after the review process ends, whether the paper is accepted or rejected. Each of the authors and reviewers and the designated editor receive targeted emails that point to a survey on Qualtrics.com. Authors answer questions on the submission process, the nature and quality of the reviews received, and support from the editor and senior editors, where appropriate. Data from the 360-degree feedback will help us to understand how well we are managing the review process and will provide the foundation for identifying “Outstanding Reviewers” and “Outstanding Editor,” presented at the Annual Meeting of the AAA. Each year, as senior editors, we will produce a report for the AIS Section Research and Publications Committee as well as for the broader JIS community. We will report aggregated information from the surveys. We will then track our performance on these metrics in succeeding years.
A principal joy of researching in the Accounting Information Systems domain is that we are never short of interesting and vital research questions. Unlike many other research domains that often only make highly marginal gains in each research paper, AIS researchers have the ability to make significant strides in their research agendas. Importantly, AIS research regularly has important implications for both practice and theory development. As we note above, the AIS research domain in general is strong and vital and JIS plays a central role in the communication of that research. We celebrate long-established focal areas of AIS research. We recently evaluated the papers published over the last decade in JIS and the International Journal of Accounting Information Systems. Some of the research issues that are frequently observed in the current AIS literature include: auditing, and particularly IT audit and continuous auditing; enterprise systems; accounting systems design; internal controls; IT governance; decision aids and IT-enabled decision making; information integrity and assurance; Internet financial reporting (IFR) and XBRL; technology adoption; and measurement of return on IT investment. Several of these research areas can be seen in AIS research over more than a twenty year period (Sutton 2010). Yet very few if any of these research topics can be considered as settled. Changes in technology and the institutional environment, and the extent of problems and issues we face militate against this. We enjoin researchers to consider extending and enlivening these existing areas of research. For example, we have much to do to have a complete understanding of IT governance (ITG), a research area where JIS published a theme issue in 2012. There is value in studying ITG as an interesting and important issue in itself. Equally, there are many intersections of ITG with other research areas that are of great importance to the AIS community, including internal control (and particularly internal control over financial reporting), auditing (including continuous assurance and continuous monitoring), return on investment and management of risk.
There are some glaring omissions in the catalog of research issues set out above. These are research areas that impact on the conduct of accounting and auditing and the profession of accounting and where we have seen little or no research in the AIS literature. Very limited research has been undertaken on the intersection of AIS with management accounting. This intersection is multi-dimensional, and includes accounting systems design; role of decision aids (e.g dashboards); data mining, and reliance on technology by management and management accountants. Similarly, it is important to understand the technology skillset of management accountants and their need for decision tools in their work. Small business, not-for-profits and their CPA advisors have been almost completely ignored by academic researchers in the AIS domain. Yet the small business and not-for-profit sectors represent a critical share of the modern economy. Similarly, there has been little or no research on AIS in the public sector.
Additionally, the impact of AIS on the ethical judgment and behavior of users is seldom explored. Although a new journal has been established in the IT domain to begin this conversation, there is very limited overlap in ethical issues relevant to each domain. We have a call for papers on this topic, edited by Eileen Taylor. A literature review with many ideas for future research is now available on SSRN (Guragai et al. 2014).
We mentioned above that IT both mitigates risk as well as bringing its own risk. We have seen some research on IT risk and risk management in recent years, but it has been a marginal area in AIS research. It deserves to be brought into a more central position. Several areas of IT risk are also deserving of additional enquiry. The most obvious of these areas is IT security and particularly cybersecurity. There are clear differences in belief in the professional and academic communities on the impact of security risks on accounting systems. This tension gives rise to interesting research questions. As we note above, JIS has a forthcoming theme issue on IT security but much more research by established researchers and doctoral students is necessary in this area. Our hyper-connected business and personal environment means that cybersecurity will be central in the AIS domain as far ahead as we can see. A second risk area has been touched on somewhat in previous years but deserves to be revisited is the development of informal information systems within the enterprise, beyond formal IT controls. These shadow or rogue systems present many challenges to the maintenance of internal controls and yet are an ever present reality of the information environment in organizations. Closely aligned to this is the effect of mobile technologies on AIS, on which research has been a null set.
Importantly, we do not see these existing, “missing” and new areas of research to be exclusive. As teachers and researchers, we have our own biases and may well be overlooking established or trending research areas.
The Journal of Information Systems is the premier research journal in accounting information systems. The AIS domain sits between the domains of accounting and auditing on the one hand and computer science and management information systems on the other hand. Other behavioral disciplines inform the AIS domain. As Senior Editors of JIS we are excited about the future of our journal and of the AIS domain. We are in the fortunate position of having a panoply of research issues that have both strong practical implications as well as the potential to add to theory. We are open to dialog on your research ideas at whatever stage the research has reached.
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