Rounded Rectangle:

AIS Newsletter                 


President’s Letter




Mauldin, Elaine.jpg

           Fall 2011

             We have over 600 members in our section, but

fewer than 100 attended our section's breakfast business

meeting in Denver. At the breakfast meeting, I made a few

somewhat controversial remarks about the state of

accounting information systems (AIS) and the state of our

section. Since the vast majority of our section members

were not present at that meeting, I am taking the liberty of

sharing some of those comments with you in this email


             I see a number of critical issues that affect the present and future of our section, and indeed the future of AIS as a field. For starters, we are experiencing a bit of a crisis in AIS research production. We have far too little AIS research being generated to fill the pages of the far too many AIS journals that we have. Related, we have far too few PhD programs producing new AIS researchers. The number of PhD programs producing AIS researchers could be counted on two hands, perhaps even on just one hand. 

             Yet another problem is that some of our best AIS researchers are at schools where only publications in the "Top 6" accounting journals matter. These researchers get virtually no credit for publishing in journals other than the "majors." They have little incentive to submit their best work to AIS journals such as our section's own Journal of Information Systems. Related to this issue is the reality that very few of the top 50 accounting programs will grant tenure to an assistant professor who publishes solely or primarily in AIS journals. All of these trends should be of concern to us.

             I submit to you that a root cause of many of these problems is an issue we have struggled with for over 30 years, and that is the definition of "accounting information systems." The running joke amongst long term members of our section is that if you ask five AIS academics to define AIS you will get seven definitions! Our section is labeled the Information Systems section of the American Accounting Association. As such, we are the only section in the AAA that has to compete for recognition with a whole discipline, i.e., the (management) information systems discipline. Indeed, many of our Accounting department colleagues probably feel that AIS is indistinguishable from (management) information systems and they therefore question the legitimacy of our field. In effect, we suffer from what a marketing researcher might call a "lack of product differentiation." Some in our section might argue that our connection to the MIS field is beneficial because it provides us with access to journals in MIS. Indeed many of our leading researchers have had considerable success publishing in the top MIS journals. However, for us to survive as accounting information researchers, we need to ask whether our colleagues in auditing, managerial accounting, or even financial accounting would have any interest in our research. It behooves us to have a clear definition of AIS that articulates its connection to accounting and explicates what is unique about our field relative to management information systems. 

             In 1992, Steve Sutton (one of the pioneering and most prolific researchers in our field) asked the question "Can we research a field we cannot define?" Since 1992 we have obviously had hundreds of AIS research articles published, so in one sense the answer to Steve's question is "yes." It seems that we stand at a crossroads where we can pose an even more fundamental question: "Can we survive as a field if we cannot define it and articulate its need within the broader accounting discipline?" I submit to you that unless we grapple with and resolve this question, our long term survival may be in jeopardy.

             What might we gain by formulating a clearer definition of AIS? How would it help to better define AIS? A clearer definition of AIS ought to help our colleagues in other areas of accounting better understand how our research and teaching relates to and complements their field of specialization. Such a definition will help our constituents understand what space we occupy and why it is a separate and distinct space from that which our colleagues in "pure" information systems occupy. A definition that explicates a competitive advantage from leveraging knowledge of accounting with knowledge of relevant information systems issues may pique the interest of prospective doctoral students and hence increase demand for AIS education at the doctoral level. I acknowledge that these potential outcomes stemming from a better formulated definition of AIS are purely speculative, but we will not know unless we try.

             Although I have outlined a series of challenges we face as a field, we do have a set of core strengths that are worth acknowledging and highlighting. We know that accounting skills combined with information technology skills result in a powerful competitive advantage in the job market for accountants. This is what we do in our AIS classes - produce accountants that are also skilled in IT. The profession knows this and values these skills. Who amongst us has not received positive feedback about the value of the AIS class from our former students? Time and time again, I hear from former students (now successful managers and even partners in the major accounting firms) about how he or she used some of what they learned in my class on the job. We need to do a better job of having these constituents affirm the value of AIS to business school deans and accounting department heads. Such outside validation of our role would go a long way in solidifying the legitimacy of AIS as a subfield within accounting.

             To strengthen AIS as a field, I suggest that we should be open to some bold thinking. We need to be willing to tackle some "sacred cows" and take a fresh approach to some thorny issues we have been grappling with. For example, as I argued in Denver, we should think about working jointly with the Strategic and Emerging Technologies to at least consider the possibility of our two sections merging back into one. Instead of two sections and two journals that are facing a few challenges, what if we had one strong section and one thriving journal?   

             I hope many of you plan to attend our section's midyear meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2012. At that meeting, we will have a "town hall" session with a panel of leaders in our field, where I hope we can have a lively debate about the "state of AIS," that is, the issues I have raised here. I recognize that there are no simple solutions to the problems outlined here. But the process of solving a problem always begins with a recognition and understanding of the problem. It is my hope that I have at least begun this process.

             If you have thoughts regarding the points I am making here (I hope you do), I invite you to respond to my posting in AAA Commons. My posting is under the "IS Section Discussion" hive I have created.  Let's keep the conversation going!

Uday Murthy,

University of South Florida