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The costs of Activity-Based Management

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journal contribution
posted on 25.02.2008, 09:29 by Peter Armstrong
Activity-based costing and management are now the stock-in-trade of a lucrative industry, with at least one Big Six consultancy operation devoted wholly to their promotion. Both techniques represent a major extension of accountability in the modern corporation, into a zone previously defined in accounting terms as fixed overhead. The mechanics depend on treating the staff department as a mass-producer of repeated acts of routine service (‘activities’) performed ‘for’ particular cost-objects, usually products. By treating these activities as performance indicators, payroll budgets can be linked to activity volumes thus creating pressures for the casualisation of staff employment. The activity frame of reference, particularly when linked with ‘value analysis’, also encourages the stripping-out of all staff work which cannot be accommodated within its definition of activities. This threatens a dumbing-down of staff departments in which non-routine initiatives aimed at competitive advantage in fields such as human resource management or marketing may be stifled because they cannot be accommodated within the language of accountability imposed by ABM. These arguments are concretised through an examination of the ABM treatment of one of its favoured targets: the purchasing function. The contrast between this and the supply chain management approach advocated by practitioners and academics who take the function seriously is a stark illustration of the limitations of ABM as an approach to the management of staff activity.



Accounting, Organizations and Society, 2002, 27 (1-2), pp.99-120

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This is the authors' final draft of the paper published as Accounting, Organizations and Society, 2002, vol 27 (1-2), pp.99-120. The final published version is available via, doi: 10.1016/S0361-3682(99)00031-8



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