Cost-System Redesign at a Medium-Sized Company: Getting the Right Numbers to Drive Improvements in Business Performance

Cost-System Redesign at a Medium-Sized Company: Getting the Right Numbers to Drive Improvements in Business Performance

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M A N A G E M E N T A C C O U N T I N G Q U A R T E R L Y 9 S U M M E R 2 0 0 7 , V O L . 8 , N O . 4
Many businesses today are pursuing a
growth strategy. Typically, small- to
medium-sized enterprises must fund
growth internally, which, in turn, is a
function of the company’s ability to
generate positive cash flows. A domestic electronic
consumer products manufacturer, referred to in this
article as XYZ, was experiencing cash-flow difficulties
and unprofitable growth, so it responded by implementing
a simple activity-based costing (ABC) system.
This cost system redesign allowed XYZ to estimate
return on sales (ROS) and return on investment (ROI)
results for both product lines and customers. In short,
the ABC system provided the owners with strategies
for pursuing profitable growth.
We will look at how ABC improved XYZ’s pricing
and product decisions and spurred business process
improvements, all of which allowed the company to
become more competitive. To help accountants and
managers who otherwise might hesitate to engage in a
cost-system redesign project, we also discuss ABC
implementation issues likely faced by small- to
medium-sized manufacturers.
BACKGROUND
Founded in 1999, XYZ Corporation caught the Internet
wave squarely by offering domestically produced,
value-based consumer electronics products directly to
Cost-System Redesign
at a Medium-Sized
Company: Getting the
Right Numbers to Drive
Improvements in
Business Performance
ACTIVITY-BASED COSTING ALLOWED A MANUFACTURER TO MAKE BUSINESS PROCESS
CHANGES THAT HELPED IMPROVE CASH FLOW, PRODUCT AND CHANNEL PROFITABILITY,
AND THE COMPANY’S COMPETITIVE POSITION.
B Y D A V I D E . S T O U T, P H . D . , A N D G R E G O R Y P. B E D E N I S , C P I M
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the end user through the company’s website. The company
separates its products into six families:
? Product family A consists of purchased
accessories.
? Product family T items have textured finishes and
can be purchased locally in small-lot quantities.
All other finish types must be purchased in oceancontainer
quantities.
? Product family V comprises items with a vinyl
finish.
? Product family W includes premium woodfinished
items.
? Product family U is uniquely designed and exclusively
manufactured items.
? Product family S items represent complete assemblies,
which XYZ purchases from foreign
manufacturers.
Annual sales for all products amount to approximately
$9 million. Currently, the company ships all orders
from a single U.S. manufacturing facility. XYZ sells
products directly to domestic customers, but foreign
customers purchase items through an exclusive dealer
network. The company has three owners and 16
employees, most of whom work at home in various
parts of the country.
Since XYZ’s founding, the company’s competitive
advantage has been low overhead costs and high customer
service—a combination that equates to high value
in the customer’s mind. XYZ’s primary competitors
include low-cost Internet direct distributors that purchase
complete products from foreign manufacturers
and high-end product manufacturers that distribute
merchandise via specialty retail shops. Technical innovations
and new product offerings principally fuel
growth in the industry in which XYZ competes.
During each of its first five years, the company experienced
significant sales growth. The first three years
saw 40% sales volume and revenue growth per year followed
by 20% growth in each of the next two years.
Sales volume and total revenues are still increasing,
although cash flow is becoming a problem for the company.
Shrinking dividend payouts and slowing payment
cycles to suppliers suggested that the proverbial “edge
of the cliff” for this company was fast approaching!1
Growth in sales revenues is a desired outcome for
most businesses, as it is with XYZ, but growth in sales
without sufficient cash to fuel expansion may actually
be counterproductive. This could occur, for example,
when growth is fueled by new product offerings that do
not recover their full costs. In short, cash flow and
working capital, not sales revenue or sales volume, are
the lifeblood of a business.2
Continued success for XYZ was therefore being
jeopardized by the lack of sufficient cash flow. Understandably,
the owners wanted to know the causes of the
deteriorating situation, so they put together a crossfunctional
team consisting of the chief financial officer,
plant manager,3 and director of engineering to investigate
the situation. After considerable deliberations, the
team identified the following problem areas:
? Poor inventory management,
? Lack of control of overhead (i.e., manufacturing
support) costs, and
? Inefficient business processes (for example,
disorganized inventory information).
PROBLEM SPECIFICATION—A DEEPER LOOK
For virtually any manufacturer, proper inventory management
ensures the availability of the right items at
the right time and in the right place. This, in turn, supports
organizational objectives of customer service, productivity,
profit, and return on investment (ROI). There
are, however, both out-of-pocket and opportunity costs
associated with inventory holdings. For example, inventory
ties up capital, uses storage space, requires handling,
deteriorates, becomes obsolete, incurs property
taxes, requires insurance, and sometimes is lost or
stolen.4 For XYZ, increased inventory holdings to
accommodate anticipated sales increases were straining
cash flow. Further, inventory levels increased at XYZ
when the company was pursuing a growth strategy of
product-line diversity. Realized sales increases, however,
were not sufficient to offset the increased investment
in inventory for the company, which, consequently,
was robbing the company of much-needed liquid
assets.
In addition, XYZ was experiencing increased spending
on capacity-related (i.e., short-term fixed) costs and
manufacturing support costs (e.g., supply-chain management).
XYZ’s humble beginning is probably similar
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to that of many start-up manufacturers. Batch quantities
for the company were initially small, labor content was
high, and overhead was relatively low. As the company
matured and sales increased, labor content decreased
because of greater returns to scale, learning-curve
effects, and investments in an improved infrastructure.5
With increases in sales volume and a changing sales mix
that XYZ was experiencing, support costs were escalating.
Capacity-related costs as well were increasing disproportionably
to increases in sales. Indirect labor costs,
capital expenditures (e.g., tooling costs), and factory
overhead costs were all increasing faster than sales revenue.
XYZ had always excelled at delivering and supporting
a superior product. As such, cost control was
never an area of focus for the company, but now it was
becoming a strategic issue. In short, support costs for
XYZ were escalating rapidly, overrunning profits and
draining cash.
Increased inventory holdings and excessive overhead
spending combined to reduce the company’s net cash
flow. Determining which inventory items to reduce and
which overhead costs to focus on, however, was unclear
to the owner-managers. The necessary cost-control tools
and supporting business processes were not in place at
XYZ to guide these decisions, so the cross-functional
team ultimately decided to critically examine the company’s
accounting system.
COST-SYSTEM REFINEMENT
XYZ had been using a traditional cost system that was
fairly rudimentary. In fact, the view of the owners was
that the cost system was necessary only for compiling
data for income-tax purposes and periodically for
preparing financial reports (e.g., to support a bank loan
request). As a result, the company had done no budgeting
or forecasting to track and control costs. Thus,
XYZ’s existing cost system could not capture the underlying
economics of the company’s production function
and, therefore, could not assist the company in responding
to the deteriorating situation in which it found
itself. The plant manager had just completed an MBA
course in management accounting and was intrigued by
the prospect of introducing a rudimentary activitybased
costing system at XYZ. This was the primary proposal
that the three-person team dealt with over an
ensuing six-month period.
Companies use ABC systems to improve product
and/or customer costing principally because such systems
provide better (i.e., more accurate) estimates of
the resource demands (or resource consumption) of an
organization’s outputs, its customers, and its distribution
channels. The plant manager at XYZ thought that useful
insights for improving cash flow and profitability
might be possible if the company had a better handle
on the resource demands of its various product offerings
and distribution choices. Such insights, the team hoped,
would enable the company to respond to the strategic
challenges it was facing.
Further, the plant manager read an article in the Fall
2005 issue of Management Accounting Quarterly, “Product
Line and Customer ROI: The Next Generation of
ABC,” which introduced him to using ABC data to
evaluate product- and customer-level ROI.6 The article
asserts that ABC concepts can be extended to encompass
the allocation of assets to activities. Just as
resources under ABC are assigned to activities (e.g.,
production setups) for costing purposes, assets can similarly
be assigned to activities. Once the level of assets
associated with a given activity is determined, it is possible
to assign assets to customers and products in the
same fashion that ABC assigns costs to products and
customers. Thus, the plant manager at XYZ wondered
whether the company could use a simple ABC system
to guide strategic decisions such as those related to
product mix, product selling price, overhead cost control,
and business process improvement.
ABC ELEMENTS
Figure 1 illustrates the general elements of an ABC system:
resources, activities, resource drivers, cost objects,
and activity cost drivers. Resources are devoted to the
performance of activities; they are the sources of cost.7
Examples of resources would be direct material, direct
labor, office support staff, professional salaries, office
space, and advertising costs. At XYZ—and common to
many accounting systems we observe today—most
resource costs are gathered in functional or descriptive
accounts. Thus, XYZ’s general ledger (the source of
resource expenditures) was ultimately redesigned to
accommodate the proposed ABC system. For example,
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marketing, accounting, customer service, engineering,
assembly, and plant management were designated as
resources for the ABC model. Resources that are not
functional areas at XYZ include facilities and materials.
Activities are units of work performed by the organization’s
resources. Typical activities ABC captures
include things such as creating a customer order, processing
returns, creating invoices, and handling materials.
In an ABC system, activities typically are organized
in a master list called an Activity Dictionary. Table 1 is a
portion of the Activity Dictionary XYZ developed. This
example includes the major activities performed by the
customer-service resource and the corresponding costlevel
hierarchy for each identified activity. The costlevel
hierarchy is a framework for classifying activities
according to the level at which costs are incurred. Unitlevel,
batch-level, product sustaining, and business sustaining
are activity levels in conventional ABC
implementations.
Related activities are grouped in activity cost centers,
which at XYZ include order processing, inventory, warehousing,
engineering and marketing, assembly, customer
service, and accounting. These activity centers
parallel XYZ’s organization chart. The activity cost center’s
purpose is to organize activities in a meaningful
way and, ultimately, to facilitate business process
improvements and strategic cost management. For
instance, the order-processing activity cost center in
Figure 2 groups activities specific to the customer
order-entry process at XYZ.
Resource drivers assign costs from descriptive
accounts contained in an organization’s existing cost
system to activities. Resource drivers link resources
and activities and are chosen to approximate the
resources activities use. For example, in Figure 2, customer
service and accounting resource costs are traced
Resources
Activities and
Activity Cost
Pools
Activity
Center
Resource
Driver Cost
Element
Source: Peter B.B. Turney, Common cents: how to succeed with activity-based costing and activity-based management, rev. ed., McGraw-Hill,
New York, N.Y., 2005, p. 95.
Activity
Driver
Cost Objects
Figure 1: ELEMENTS IN A TYPICAL ABC SYSTEM
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to five order-processing activities. Most resource driver
amounts are based on estimates of the effort expended
on each activity. XYZ used interviews and questionnaires
to generate these estimates. Other resources,
such as materials, are assigned to activities using more
exact information. Pinpoint accuracy is not required for
ABC systems, particularly for initial system development
and for a small- to medium-sized company such
as XYZ.
The cost object is the final point to which costs are
assigned and is the reason work is performed. For
example, it can be a product, a service, a customer or
Figure 2: ORDER-PROCESSING ACTIVITY COST CENTER AT XYZ
Accounting
Customer
Service
Domestic
Customers
International
Dealers
Product
Family V
Product
Family W
Product
Family U
No. of Orders
Enter and
Monitor
Orders
Process
Accounts
Receivable
Product
Family A
Product
Family S
Process
Credit
Cards
Activity Resource Cost Hierarchy
Advertise Products Customer Service Product Sustaining
Ship Product Customer Service Unit Level
Answer Product Information Question Customer Service Product Sustaining
Support Post Sales Customer Service Product Sustaining
Process Warranty Claims Customer Service Unit Level
Maintain Shopping Cart Customer Service Business Sustaining
Enter and Monitor Orders Customer Service Unit Level
Create Priority List Customer Service Batch Level
Create Invoices Customer Service Unit Level
Process Credit Cards Customer Service Unit Level
Table 1: EXCERPT FROM XYZ’S ACTIVITY DICTIONARY
Product
Family T
Create
Priority
List
Create
Invoices
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customer group, or a distribution channel. Cost objects
can also vary in detail depending on the ABC system’s
purpose and the organization’s nature. For XYZ’s initial
ABC model, the cost objects consist of the aforementioned
six product families and two distribution channels.
The product families and distribution channels are
distinct because of differences in resource
requirements.
Activity cost drivers assign the costs of activities to cost
objects by measuring the level of activity consumption
by each cost object. In conventional ABC systems,
there are three basic types of activity drivers.8 Transaction
drivers count the frequency of an activity and are
the least expensive cost driver. Transaction drivers,
however, may be the least accurate drivers because they
assume the same quantity of resources is required every
time an activity is performed. For example, the activity
“number of admissions” is a possible transaction driver
for all hospital-related support costs associated with the
admissions/discharge process. Each admission/discharge
is counted as a single activity, and this information is
readily obtainable from admission records. Figure 3
shows the inventory-management cost center for XYZ.
All activity drivers in Figure 3 are transaction activity
drivers.
Duration drivers represent the amount of activity performed.
Duration drivers are used in an ABC system
when significant variation exists in the amount of activity
required for different outputs. For example, in a hospital
setting a logical duration driver for routine care
(“room and board”) costs would be number of patientdays;
in a manufacturing setting, a duration driver
regarding setup activity would be number of setup
hours. Figure 4 contains a representation of the marketing
and engineering cost center for XYZ in which a
duration driver was used in a unique way. To assign
engineering and marketing activity costs at XYZ, the
product family’s position in the product life cycle was
used. The product life cycle was split into four stages:
introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. Each prod-
Figure 3: INVENTORY-MANAGEMENT COST CENTER
Domestic
Customers
International
Dealers
Product
Family T
Product
Family V
Product
Family W
Product
Family U
# of Part Numbers
# of Forecasted Items
Product
Family A
Product
Family S
Marketing
Assembly Team
Factory
Management
Maintain Inventory
Database
Forecasting
Demand
Sourcing
Materials
# of Part Numbers
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uct family was allotted the appropriate numerical value
based on its stage in the product life cycle. Subsequently,
engineering and marketing costs were assigned to
product families based on their comparative product
life-cycle position. The product life-cycle duration driver
was used because a transaction driver or traditional
duration driver for marketing and engineering, such as
number of engineering change notices, was not available.
Going forward, XYZ will need to determine if the
additional accuracy that comes from using a transaction
driver such as number of engineering change notices is
worth the additional information-collection costs that
would be involved.
Intensity drivers charge directly for the resources used
each time an activity is performed and are generally the
most accurate activity cost drivers. They also are the
most expensive to implement. In a manufacturing setting,
an intensity driver for setup activity might be
direct-cost tracing for labor. For XYZ, engineering activity
costs (see Figure 4) could be assigned more accurately
if logs were used to track an individual’s time
worked on each product family (A, T, W, etc.).
BENEFITS FROM THE INITIAL
ABC IMPLEMENTATION
Although still in its nascent stage, the ABC system at
XYZ has yielded a number of financial and processrelated
benefits.
Financial (Profit-Loss) Effects
The company used initial ABC data to construct a pro
forma profit and loss (P&L) statement by product family
and distribution channel (see Table 2). The ABC
model was used to assign revenue, manufacturing costs,
and operating expenses across product families. Prior to
the ABC system, XYZ was unable to generate financial
information to this level of detail. Based on the information
in Table 2, several recommendations emerged
for improving cash flow and for maximizing ROI across
cost objects.
Figure 4: ENGINEERING AND MARKETING ACTIVITY COST CENTER
Domestic
Customers
International
Dealers
Product
Family T
Product
Family V
Product
Family W
Product
Family U
Product
Family A
Product
Family S
Customer
Service
Assembly
Team
Engineering Marketing
Factory
Management
Advertise
Products
Develop
New
Products
Maintain
Website
Implement
Design
Changes
Misc.
Engineering
Activities
Develop
Product
Costs
Manage
Product
Demos
Maintain
Dealer
Relationships
Introduce
New
Products
Relative position in Product Life Cycle
2 1 2 3 3 2
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Use of Common Components: A recently released
study concludes that automakers can increase profitability
by using common components across platforms.9
The study reports that Toyota saves an estimated
$1,000 per vehicle over five years by using common
components. The decision team at XYZ reviewed product
configurations and estimated that the company
could reduce inventory investments by approximately
$132,000 by emphasizing a common-component strategy
in product family T, product family V, and the foreign
distribution channel. For example, product families
T and V use unique electrical components that can
be replaced by electrical components used by other
product families. In addition, most foreign dealers
require their electrical components to accept 220v power
input. These components can be eliminated by
adding a voltage selection switch to the domestic 110v
electrical component equivalent. Table 3 shows the
expected results of the proposed changes. With the
ABC model, XYZ is able to reveal the positive financial
effects of using common components.
Product-Mix Decisions: When products and customers
are served from the same constrained asset, which for
XYZ is dollars of working capital, it is necessary to
Product Family Distribution Channel
A T V W U S Direct Dealers
Sales $23,901 $100,435 $138,557 $136,094 $117,560 $60,762 $462,108 $115,201
COGS $24,181 $66,256 $81,347 $72,798 $62,765 $30,618 $261,265 $76,670
Gross Profit ($281) $34,179 $57,210 $63,295 $54,794 $30,145 $200,842 $38,530
Operating Expenses $5,676 $18,375 $31,056 $21,370 $16,729 $17,415 $100,808 $10,338
Operating Income ($5,956) $15,803 $26,155 $41,926 $38,065 $12,730 $100,034 $28,192
Return on Sales (ROS) (24.92%) 15.74% 18.88% 30.81% 32.38% 20.95% 21.65% 24.47%
Total Inventory $27,540 $106,266 $186,440 $229,380 $92,091 $121,242 $568,488 $194,471
Return on Inventory (21.63%) 14.87% 14.03% 18.28% 41.33% 10.50% 17.60% 14.50%
Table 2: PROFIT AND LOSS (P&L) STATEMENT BY PRODUCT
FAMILY AND DISTRIBUTION CHANEL
BEFORE ABC: AFTER ABC:
Cost Objects Cost Objects
(T) (V) (F) (T) (V) (F)
Textured Vinyl Dealers Textured Vinyl Dealers
Total Income $100,435 $138,557 $115,201 Total Income $100,435 $138,557 $115,201
Net Operating Income $15,803 $26,155 $28,192 Net Operating Income $15,257 $24,255 $28,192
Return on Sales 15.74% 18.88% 24.47% Return on Sales 15.19% 17.51% 24.47%
Total Inventory $106,266 $186,440 $194,471 Total Inventory $65,266 $163,440 $126,753
Return on Inventory 14.87% 14.03% 14.50% Return on Inventory 23.38% 14.84% 22.24%
Table 3: PROJECTED PROFIT AND LOSS (P&L) STATEMENTS
REGARDING COMMON COMPONENTS RECOMMENDATION
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determine the appropriate product mix that will maximize
profits subject to the constraint. Based on its
review of profitability figures for all product families
and products (see Table 2), the decision team recommended
eliminating some product options. That is,
from a profitability perspective, sometimes “less is
more.” Conventional accounting systems can obscure
the cost of product-line complexity and product
proliferation—costs that ABC systems attempt to
uncover.
For product family W, the walnut-finished products
were eliminated because of weak sales globally. That
recommendation was easy to explain because walnutfinished
products made up only 2% of the woodfinished
products sold while accounting for an estimated
10% of the inventory investment in the product
family. The other product-mix recommendation of
eliminating off-color finishes from product family V was
more difficult to justify. For product family V, off-color
products account for 20% of sales. On the surface, it’s
hard to walk away from that amount of sales until you
realize that, because of minimum-order quantity
requirements from the supplier, one-third (i.e., $40,000)
of the company’s inventory investment in the product
family is tied up in off-color products. Table 4 shows
the estimated financial effect of eliminating off-color
inventory at XYZ.10 The lesson here is straightforward:
With cash-flow constraints, it may be necessary to eliminate
products that sell and that have good profit margins
but that tie up too much cash in inventory. This
insight is a direct result of the estimated cost data provided
by the new ABC system.
The last recommendation from the team was surprising.
Product family U comprises the first products
designed and manufactured by XYZ. Products in this
line are unique in the marketplace but are “long in the
tooth.” Because product family U’s sales were shrinking
in comparison to total sales, it was assumed that these
products were at the end of their life cycle. On the contrary,
based on ABC data, product family U had the
highest ROS and ROI. It was, in effect, XYZ’s cash cow.
As such, the team recommended that XYZ do everything
possible to increase sales, including expanding
markets, reintroducing products with improved aesthetics,
and initiating a complete redesign of the product
line. Increasing sales in product family U would not
decrease absolute inventory levels, but it would
increase overall ROS and ROI.
Because of the cash-flow issues, the decision team’s
main focus was reducing inventory to increase cash flow
and product-level ROI. Recommendations focusing on
using common components and eliminating poorperforming
products account for an estimated inventory
reduction of $172,000. Other recommendations, including
renegotiating minimum-order quantities on purchased
components, accounted for an additional esti-
BEFORE ABC: AFTER ABC:
Cost Objects Cost Objects
(V) (W) (S) (V) (W) (S)
Vinyl Wood Purch. Vinyl Wood Purch.
Comp. Comp.
Total Income $138,557 $136,094 $60,762 Total Income $138,557 $136,094 $60,762
Net Operating Income $26,155 $41,926 $12,730 Net Operating Income $26,155 $41,926 $12,730
Return on Sales 18.88% 30.81% 20.95% Return on Sales 18.88% 30.81% 20.95%
Total Inventory $186,440 $229,380 $121,242 Total Inventory $168,440 $212,380 $81,242
Return on Inventory 14.03% 18.28% 10.50% Return on Inventory 15.53% 19.74% 15.67%
Table 4: PROJECTED PROFIT AND LOSS (P&L) STATEMENTS
REGARDING SELECTED OFF-COLOR PRODUCTS
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mated inventory reduction of $35,000. The expected
result of all recommendations combined is an estimated
inventory reduction of $207,000 and a 37% increase in
overall ROI.
Process-Related Improvements
As illustrated previously, organizations typically implement
ABC-type systems to realize improved financial
performance (based on improved pricing decisions, better
product-mix decisions, improved cost control, etc.).
ABC implementations, however, can provide additional
benefits in the form of improved business processes. In
the case of XYZ, process improvements in the accounting
and inventory control systems were attributed to the
ABC implementation.
The starting point for establishing the flow of costs in
an ABC system is the general ledger.11 As noted earlier,
the general ledger at XYZ was reconfigured to accommodate
the ABC implementation. Redundant and related
accounts (e.g., various factory overhead accounts)
were combined to reduce the number of required calculations,
and singular income and cost-of-goods-sold
accounts were disaggregated by product-family level.
For example, the overall sales revenue account associated
with the old accounting system was split into multiple
sales revenue accounts, one for each product family.
Similarly, selected expense accounts (e.g., fringe benefits)
were subdivided to obtain resource costs easily.12
All these changes represented improvements to the
company’s accounting system and were related directly
to the ABC implementation.
Another significant process change attributed to the
ABC implementation was the institution of spending
budgets. An ABC system is able to attribute costs to
specific products or product families, but spending budgets
are better equipped to manage costs. XYZ had
been aware of the need to implement spending controls,
but it lacked motivation. With a better understanding
of ROS and ROI because of the ABC implementation,
XYZ was now in a position to employ
spending budgets to improve profitability.
The time and effort required to create the ABC model
made it evident that considerable changes to the
management information system (MIS) at XYZ would
be required to make the costing process efficient and
accurate. Problems with the existing MIS came primarily
from information silos that existed throughout the
company, making information gathering difficult.13
Sales revenues, manufacturing costs, and operating
expenses were all maintained in separate systems. No
cost information could be shared or reconciled
electronically.
To eliminate the information silos and implement
the new costing system effectively, the inventory control
and order-shipping processes at XYZ were incorporated
into the existing accounting information system.
All inventory control functions are now performed in
QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions.14 This integration
process allows revenue information and manufacturing
costs to be related to shipments, which extends the
ABC information related to product families and distribution
channels. In addition, all costing information
now resides in one database.
LESSONS LEARNED
“Work is infinite; time is finite. Therefore, you must
manage your time, not your work.”15 Managing time for
an ABC implementation means managing the access,
flow, and level of information. In this section, we offer
some recommendations based on the ABC implementation
experience at XYZ.
When possible, reorganize the general ledger and
income statement to accommodate ABC. The reorganization
of the financial information allows easy accessibility
to data. Integrating vital information systems controls
the flow of information and automates many of the
required calculations needed to develop the ABC model,
thereby reducing the amount of time required to
generate cost data. In addition, system integration
improves data accuracy and the ability to replicate the
information-generation process. Finally, when implementing
an ABC model, it is important to embrace the
concept of “good enough” when determining the
required fineness of the data and for getting the ABC
project off the ground. As General George S. Patton
said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better
than a perfect plan next week.”
Another overriding lesson is that an organization’s
structure and financial status influence the duration and
effectiveness of its ABC implementation. Many internal
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factors, including corporate culture, available information
systems, and current financial performance, have a
bearing on the ability of the ABC model to influence
the organization’s decision-making process. XYZ’s
decision-making process had been primarily subjective
in nature, with little financial analysis. Thus, considerable
time was required to educate the decision team
and board members on ABC, P&L statements, and
ROI. Inefficient business processes at XYZ, information
silos, and lack of information were obstacles that had to
be overcome as part of the ABC model-creation process.
Finally, the most important lesson was that significant
change does not occur without crisis. Or as Louis
V. Gerstner, former chairman of IBM, put it: “No organization
is going to change in a fundamental way unless
it believes there’s real pain staying the way we are.”
XYZ was open to the recommendations from the decision
team because the company found itself in the
midst of a crisis. Developing solutions before problems
reach crisis proportions is most prudent, although the
message may not be fully received.
BENEFITS OF COST-SYSTEM REDESIGN
ABC systems are not meant solely for large companies.
Small- to medium-sized companies, such as XYZ, can
benefit from data provided by an ABC model. In the
present case, the ABC information motivated business
process changes (e.g., in accounting), reduced product
complexity for several product lines (e.g., moving to the
use of common components), and influenced changes
in the company’s product mix (e.g., by highlighting
underperforming products). Collectively, these changes
helped improve cash flow, product and channel profitability,
and the organization’s competitive position. ¦
Gregory P. Bedenis, CPIM, is an MBA candidate in the
Williams College of Business Administration at Youngstown
State University in Youngstown, Ohio. You can reach
Gregory at (330) 856-3231 or [email protected]
David E. Stout, Ph.D., is the Andrews Chair in Accounting
in the Williamson College of Business Administration at
Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. You can
reach David at (330) 941-3509 or [email protected]
ENDNOTES
1 Dividend payouts are made to the owners and select employees
on a quarterly basis.
2 Suzanne Caplan, Streetwise Finance & Accounting: How to Keep
Your Books and Manage Your Finances without an MBA, CPA, or
Ph.D., Adams Media Corporation, Avon, Mass., 2000.
3 One of the coauthors of this article.
4 Lee J. Krajewski, Operations Management: Strategy and Analysis,
6th ed., Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, N.J.,
2002.
5 Thus, the start-up of XYZ was probably similar to that of
Apple Computer or Dell: Assembly began in someone’s
garage, one product at a time, progressing to a multi-stage
factory producing batches of products.
6 Kevin Devine, Tom Lammert, and Priscilla O’Clock, “Product
Line and Customer ROI: The Next Generation of ABC,”
Management Accounting Quarterly, Fall 2005, pp. 1-11.
7 Peter B. B. Turney, Common cents: how to succeed with activitybased
costing and activity-based management, rev. ed., McGraw-
Hill, New York, N.Y., 2005, p. 94.
8 Anthony A. Atkinson, Robert S. Kaplan, and S. Mark Young,
Management Accounting, 4th ed., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle
River, N.J., 2004.
9 http://oesa.org/publications/articledetail.php?articleId=5142
(accessed September 13, 2007).
10 XYZ believed that few to no sales would be lost by eliminating
off colors because competitors do not offer multiple color
choices in this product category.
11 Turney, op. cit., pp. 268-269.
12 Ibid., pp. 270-271.
13 An “information silo” is a management system incapable of
reciprocal operation with other, related management systems.
For instance, order information, initially captured in the Internet
shopping cart, must be rekeyed into the inventory control
system to determine the build schedule for the assembly
department.
14 Accounting software for small businesses from Intuit.
15 Kenneth Atchity, A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write, rev.
ed., W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1995.