The devil is in the detail – which is why the Lord of the Nine Hells should never be your DBA

Maybe he knows where the bodies are buried...CPA Australia have asked me to present at their conference in Melbourne in October. They didn’t want to do Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – that’s already been well-covered apparently. I did suggest that I could relate some case studies from the field about data governance – you know, how to get databases right and so on. I decided that I would try for the entertainment factor – after all, I have seen quite a few fun things in my time, and embellishment never hurt 🙂 – and so I have written an outline for ‘The devil is in the detail – which is why the Lord of the Nine Hells should never be your database administrator’.

Seminar overview:

A successful business knows about its business environment to deliver consistently good services or products to its customers at a reasonable price. Accountants prepare the information that provides the feedback to the business on how it is travelling.

Unfortunately, getting that information right is quite a trick! Some of the information is locked away in limbo; we know it exists but how do we get to it? And no, ‘it’s in the database’ is not really all that helpful. Is the information we rely on actually all that accurate?

In this entertaining presentation, Micheal Axelsen explores the steps and some of the pitfalls you can take to achieve good governance of your data so that the information you prepare for the business is as right as you can get it (and meets compliance requirements!).

On this journey we take a look at some of the practical pitfalls and case studies of working with data that Micheal has seen in fifteen years of working and consulting to industry and commerce, with practical advice you can use to help your business escape its database hell.

Short overview:

As accountants, we prepare the information that a business uses to make its important decisions. Sometimes, though, the data we use seems to be impossible to track down – and when we do find it, who knows whether it’s actually useful or not?

In this entertaining presentation, Micheal looks at some of the practical pitfalls and case studies of working with data – from rampant spreadsheets to the DBA from Hell – that Micheal has seen, with practical advice you can use to help your business escape its database hell.

Does anyone care to leave feedback for me? Would you go to such a session? Or is it trying too hard to try and make databases entertaining… Still, this stuff is what I live for – which is a sad indictment of the times, I suppose, or at least of my sense of humour.

Image from Flickr User Lessio. Some Rights Reserved.

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Doing my PhD

Well for a long time I’ve been fascinated by business – did my Commerce degree at UQ in 1991 – I tortured myself a fair bit by deciding to do the Honours course.  Which was nothing like I thought it would be, and was certainly the hardest year of my life (so far) work-wise. 

Graduating in 1991 was not a good time.  Today, you graduate, you get paid $40,000 minimum, and the accounting firms fall over themselves to have you work for them for 2 years before you do the London thing.  In 1991, it was quite the other way around. So I didn’t work for an accounting firm.  Or a bank.  Who, in their wisdom, had decided the world actually really didn’t need accountants.  They were protecting their profits, but probably didn’t do too much for the profession. 

I worked in private schools for 5 years before realising that I probably didn’t want to stay in the same role for another fifteen years (advice I actually received – I was ‘too young’ to be promoted any more 🙂 – try that on today!).  So I went looking somewhere where being 27 was not considered a career choice!

I did my Masters in Information Systems in 1996 (finishing in 2000), again at UQ.  I became a CPA in 1997.  That opened up the door to consulting in business systems with both Horwath and then BDO Kendalls when Horwath merged into BDO Kendalls locally.  I joined the ITM CoE in 1998, and became its chair in 2002 after Tony Hayes moved on. 

I mostly loved BDO Kendalls as a firm – of course, we had our moments, but I was there for ten years so something must have been OK.  It’s a great accounting firm, with very talented and hardworking people.  Unfortunately due to family commitments and the need for long hours, I couldn’t stay there forever so it was best I leave and strike out on my own.  That has mostly worked well, although again that’s had its moments.  It’s reaffirmed my understanding of the need for cashflow in a small business in its growth phase, particularly during that all-important startup period!

Where’s this going?

Well, as part of my new-found life, which still very much involves consulting, but not trying to juggle family responsibilities and a national firm, I’ve done a little bit of lecturing from time to time (mostly QUT).  Which has been interesting and has lead to other things.  When I left, though, the plan was to work as a part-time lecturer as a sort of base job. 

I’ve since discovered that, in reality, to do that you mostly need to either have a PhD or be doing one.  I also found out the pay-rates for academics – even in IS, academics are paid less than the tealady in a commercial firm.  When a web-designer with four years experience commands a $70K package, and an associate lecturer gets $54K, there’s an economic imperative at work.

Fortunately I’m not entirely motivated by money – I like to do new things, interesting things, relevant things. Searching out mobile phone plans for clients is not necessarily my cup of tea (not one of my banner-moments in the past!).  Im a tad more ‘big-picture’ than that.  So I approached UQ about doing my PhD, and they just happen to have a scholarship going for a PhD student to review the impact of IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) on IT audit methodologies (see here, at the top of Page 54).  It’s almost exactly what I’m interested in, involves working with the auditors-general around the country, and it’s important (that’s why it’s one of those rare things, a PhD with funding – not a lot of funding really, for what is needed, but funding nonetheless). 

Peter tells me he’s after someone ‘mature’ to do the work – so maybe I’ve shaken off those baby-faced looks from when I was too young be promoted :).  Had to happen eventually I guess.

Personally it suits me to part-time consult and work on this topic.  It’s not quite exactly what I’m interested in, but half the work of a PhD is coming up with a topic, and here it is laid out for me on a platter, with funding and research subjects on the side.  So – I’ve said I’m up for doing it

So – I’m told an office is involved, and that I’ll have to be at UQ a fair amount of the time, but that is fairly flexible and it’s really about outcomes. The picture below is of the building at UQ where I’ll be spending most of my time.  I’ll have to buy myself some suspenders and jeans now that I’m working in academia.  There is a coffee shop and it’s a wonderful location (parking is kind of poor but we’ll deal with that and how bad could it possibly be (gak! famous last words!).

For any clients reading this, please note that I’ll still be available for consulting work – for most clients, pretty much on the same basis as before.  You won’t notice the difference, I promise, and in the meantime I get to work with some great people on a big-picture topic area of interest.  In fact, it’s a topic that’s just crying out for consulting and linking with the business community.

Guess that’s why it’s a linkage grant then, huh.

CPA Australia – going places

Anyone who has half-glanced at my CV or some of my blog posts will note that although I provide information systems consulting services to my clients, I am actually a lapsed accountant.  The reason I remain so passionate about CPA Australia is that I think a Commerce or Business degree from a university is the best entry point into the world of business, bar none.  This is even more true if, as a student, you are not certain of your future direction.  Commerce generally, and accounting particularly, lets you direct your career to meet your changing circumstances and professional preferences.  And of course I think CPA Australia is the best accounting professional body for allowing you this flexibility.  Naturally.

By way of example, I quote the members of the CPA Australia Information Technology & Management Centre of Excellence (which I chair) – all qualified accountants (with one exception), all working in very different fields.  This wasn’t necessarily because they felt that accounting was their best entree into the world of IT, but rather because it allowed their career to be flexible and follow their interest whilst maintaining a leading business professional qualification. 

All of which is leading up to the fact that I note that CPA Australia’s new advertising campaign was launched this week.  I had a sneak preview at the new Queensland President’s networking drinks last week (Lyndal Drennan is the new Queensland CPA President) but the ads are, I think, their best yet.  You can see them here:  CPA Australia Advertising Campaign 2006. 

Nicolette Sharp - the only time she goes backwards...

Australian Accounting Review Supplement

The Australian Accounting Review (Supplement #37, November 2005) issue devoted to information technology/systems issues was released in November. I reproduce a small portion of the supplementary edition editorial (which was co-written by John Campbell, Shauna Kelly, and myself – but mostly John) below:

The traditional objective of accounting is to provide information about the pecuniary affairs of an organisation. While this is largely a historical activity that focuses on past performance, the information that accounting provides also forms a useful basis for future action. In this historical context, information technology is commonly viewed as providing a productivity-enhancing and cost-effective means of storing and monitoring transactions, standardising fundamental accounting operations and facilitating compliance and financial reporting obligations. Information technology has reduced the cost of these traditional accounting functions by facilitating the processing and monitoring of large amounts of information about organisational performance. Despite the accretion of these and other benefits to the profession in general, there still exists a degree of uncertainty about the role of accounting professionals in the selection, use and management of information technology in organisations.

The papers in this special Australian Accounting Review supplement address important aspects of information technology that are of relevance to accounting practitioners and researchers. The supplement has been commissioned by CPA Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Information Technology and Management.*

The call for papers for this special edition attracted a large number of high-quality submissions, making the final selection process difficult. All research papers were peer-reviewed and carefully scrutinised by the Centre of Excellence to ensure that those selected for publication reflect the diversity of information technology issues relevant to the profession. The papers that follow deal with a broad range of topics, from discussion and research on IT governance, the impact of IT on business models, electronic business evaluation and adoption, information systems audit and control, IT investment decision-making and strategic planning in government agencies.

You can access this online through CPA Australia, or sometimes authors will provide copies upon request.

Feature articles from the November 2005 edition of Australian Accounting Review (Supplement #37 only) include:

Editorial: information technology – impacts and implications for accounting
Editorial for edition 37 of the Australian Accounting Review information technology supplement.

IT governance – are boards and business executives interested onlookers or committed participants?
This paper looks at what has to be governed and what IT governance needs to encompass to be effective, examines some of the issues of current IT governance practices from boardroom and business perspectives.

IT investment practices in large Australian firms
This review explores the procedures used by large Australian firms during the four major decisionmaking stages of the IT investment cycle: planning, evaluation, implementation and postimplementation review.

The social dimension of business and IS/IT alignment: case studies of six public-sector organisations
This paper presents the results of a study of the social dimension of the alignment of business strategy with information systems and information technology.

The pervasiveness of information and communication technology: its effects on business models and implications for the accounting profession
This paper discusses the main challenge that confronts firms because of the continued development in information and communication technologies (ICT) is the reduction in information asymmetry as product markets become increasingly information driven.

Consideration of options from an entrepreneuria, technical and operational perspective – an e-business design framework approach
This paper draws upon the emergent knowledge of e-business, together with traditional strategy theory, and provide a simple framework for the evaluation of business models for e-business.

The effect of e-commerce adoption on small/medium enterprise industry structure, competitive advantage and long-term profitability
This paper seeks to evaluate the relationship between e-commerce adoption and long-term profitability in small/medium enterprises (SMEs).

Information systems audit and control issues for enterprise management systems: qualitative evidence
This paper presents the results of a study on how the introduction of such software creates a new set of information systems audit and control problems.

Supplement on information technology
This issue of Australian Accounting Review is accompanied by a special supplement dedicated to new research work on Information Technology and Management.

Enterprise resource planning systems – implications for managers and management
This paper analyses the implications of enterprise resource planning systems for organisations in general and for managers and professionals in particular.

Feel free to email me if you you need details – these articles can usually be purchased through CPA Australia if you are not a subscriber.