The 'Whatness' of Digital Accounting
Digital Accounting has found its way into the everyday language used by accounting practitioners, with the Big 4 auditing companies pouring massive resources into the digitalisation of accounting processes in order to create an early-mover business advantage.
As explained in our recent paper, "The Whatness of Digital Accounting: Status Quo and Ways to Move Forward," digital accounting is used as summarizing term for a variety of research endeavours into the digitalisation and automatization of accounting processes based on emerging technologies (Quattrone, 2016). The existing literature deals for example with the role of digital technology in accounting and reporting (Güney, 2014; Ghasemi et al., 2011; Taipaleenmäki and Ikäheimo, 2013), the integration of the competences required in the accounting curricula (Sledgianowski et al., 2017; Janvrin and Weidenmier Watson, 2017) and the detection of fraud (Pearson and Singleton, 2008).
Already by its name, a research field of digital accounting will have to be interdisciplinary, as it includes the disciplines digital (information) technology and accounting (Lehner and Martikainen, 2019). However, due to the broadness of accounting itself, comprising financial as well as management accounting (Taipaleenmäki and Ikäheimo, 2013), insights and theories from these subfields as well as from auditing, innovation and engineering, business law, organizational theory and ethics as well as accounting education amongst others, will provide further fruitful avenues to enrich the field of digital accounting.
While this variety of related fields and theories and the related insights from particular angles certainly provides value and drives the field forward, a common, holistic understanding of the whatness of the field of digital accounting and a related research agenda that would allow to join forces and interlink the various perspectives is missing so far.
In the past, accounting information systems (AIS) have changed the way that data is collected and prepared for the decision-making by stakeholders (Neely and Cook, 2011). The further development of such systems, for example through partly-autonomous robots for process automatization, through advances in creating fully digital workflows and finally also innovative algorithms based on data-science certainly form a major part of how digital accounting needs to be understood in current research. However, most scholars would agree that digital accounting in the future will certainly be more than just collecting and processing data, as advances in artificial intelligence (AI) research already predict some sort of multi-functional, cognitive capabilities and the ability to make decisions given complex scenarios. Therefore, digital transformation in accounting needs to be seen as an ongoing process that ultimately may lead to a fully autonomous accounting system (FAAS). Such a fully autonomous accounting system would include (AI) based cognition and high-level decision making as special and new areas within the wider field of accounting. Of course, such developments are necessarily embedded within a larger societal change process induced amongst by a variety of technological advancements (Vial, 2019) and societal movements (Colignon and Covaleski, 1991; Englund et al., 2011; Hopwood, 1983).
With our paper and those papers published with in in a special issue of ACRN Journal of Finance and Risk Perspectives, we invite and hope to motivate the community of scholars interested in digital accounting to collaborate, to take in the various field-specific perspectives and to finally holistically map and delineate the field of digital accounting. For this, we propose an early framework and a research agenda that may unite and guide researchers towards a holistic understanding of the field. Here we provide a selection of five spotlights on different aspects of digital accounting to illustrate the insights we have gained so far from an ongoing delphi study on this topic.
Othmar M. Lehner - University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria
Susanne Leitner-Hanetseder - University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria
Christoph Eisl - University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria