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The origins of management accounting can be credited to pioneers in the manufacturing sector during the industrial revolution of the late 19th century and early 20th century. As organisations grew in size and business complexity (e.g., more complicated transactions, separation of owners and managers), there was a greater demand to be able to control operations more, to monitor (manager and employee) behaviour, to report and evaluate performance, and more.

These sorts of demands were met with an influx of emergent management accounting techniques. So, it was during this period that we witnessed the emergence of early MA tools such as standard costing techniques, budgeting and net present value capital appraisal techniques.

However, the manufacturing organisation of the 21st century faces fundamentally different challenges and context and, with that, many questions can be asked with regards to the relevance and fit-for-purpose of today’s armoury of management accounting tools – even so-called “advanced” techniques such as activity-based costing, lean accounting and the balanced scorecard.

Today’s manufacturing landscape is typically characterised by such attributes as: immense global competition, where production and other costs are therefore key for survival and success; greater consumer demands, in turn requiring flexibility and agility on the part of the manufacturers; mind-blowing technological change in production techniques, including robots; seismic informational technological advance, digital, wireless and other forms of making the manufacturing family closer and ‘smaller’; and new and emerging economies but still with continuing global financial problems and prevalent policies of austerity.

This characterisation of the contemporary manufacturing field is non-exhaustive – it is a minefield of ongoing development – and the above characteristics are far from independent, they intertwine. So, can we really expect a relatively static portfolio of management accounting tools and techniques – indeed, rather undeveloped for many decades now – to still fulfil its expected role of informing managers’ decision-making? This is just a probing question (for discussion), and I certainly have no answers!