I need help – professional help. Not, I hasten to add, the sort of professional help that my wife prescribes for me whenever she struggles to understand my highly logical actions. No, I am not crazy. My problem is that I seem to be rapidly turning into an accountant/ book-keeper.
More and more of my professional life consists of playing with spreadsheets and tweaking financial models. For sure, I do understand the need to control IT costs and to exercise proper financial control of a business. We can’t afford to ignore the numbers. But it isn’t what I joined up for.
Like many others in this industry, I chose computing because I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of working with technology. If I had wanted to be an accountant, I wouldn’t have spent all of that time being taught how computer systems work and how to write good software.
There used to be quite a buzz about making machines do new things. Not any more. Even the most innovative use of technology makes barely a ripple of excitement these days. We have become insensitive to the technology wonders, simply because we are inundated by new developments in almost every aspect of our lives.
Running an IT department in the 21st century has become much less of a job for Captain James T Kirk, boldly going where no one has gone before, and much more of a job for that great Dickensian character, Mr Micawber.
Today, IT’s all about balancing the books. So far this year, I have spent almost all of my time helping my technical managers to create an activity based costing model that will help us to understand our cost-to-serve basis for each part of our business.
This is an absolutely essential part of our effective technology management process and I am very pleased with the progress we have made in a relatively short period; especially as this has been the result of some very hard work by non-financial technology managers.
Clearly, in an ideal world, this accounting task should be the remit of the corporate finance function, not the IT department – but, and here is the rub, the finance team cannot be expected to derive the cost model for us because they do not understand how the technology cost components are distributed.
In other words, they may know instantly what the overall salary costs are for the IT department but they don’t necessarily know how those salary costs translate into the services we provide. That’s why we have to turn our own hands to some serious financial modelling.
It isn’t a one-off exercise, either. We will have to work hard to keep our cost model up to date and relevant as our business and technology processes change.
This is why I firmly believe that the first name on the teamsheet for my fantasy IT department should be an IT literate management accountant, who could look after the important but mostly non-productive task of sustaining our technology cost to serve model.
Perhaps, in a year or two, we will find that the professional training of management accountants will evolve to that level of IT literacy so that we can let them get on with the financial modelling and so that we can focus on our principal areas of technical expertise and management.
In the meantime, has anybody got the contact details for Beancounters Anonymous?
What do you think?
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Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org