ADD DATA ANALYTICS TO INTRO ACCOUNTING: Incorporating data analysis tools early in the curriculum gives students a front-row seat as the technology advances.

Author:Tietz, Wendy
 
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Thanks to globalization, technology advances, and a shrinking workforce, the demand for business graduates with data analytics skills has exploded while the tools and techniques continue to evolve and change rapidly. Understanding how to use data analytics to articulate and solve business problems is a necessary skill for today's business school graduate.

Various external stakeholders are emphasizing the need for data analytics skills in business program graduates. For example, IMA[R] (Institute of Management Accountants) now includes data analytics in both its Management Accounting Competency Framework and the CMA[R] (Certified Management Accountant) exam. Additionally, the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) standards for accounting programs advocate incorporating data analytics content and learning objectives throughout the curriculum. The AACSB also calls for students and faculty to develop technology agility--namely, the ability to adapt quickly to new technology. Incorporating data analytics in introductory accounting courses is the first step in providing students with a deeper understanding of how financial information can be analyzed to support management decision making.

Why Include Data Analytics?

Introductory accounting courses teach students a variety of accounting skills, including Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), steps in the accounting cycle, and how to prepare a budget. But in an effort to crunch the numbers, students often forget that accounting is truly the "language of business" and can be used for more than just the preparation of financial statements and reports. Providing students with practical, hands-on experience to gather, prepare, and analyze data gives them a much deeper understanding of how financial and nonfinancial information can be communicated to different stakeholders and help management make better business decisions.

Given that most business majors will only take introductory courses in accounting, it's critical that students understand how data analytics, combined with accounting information, helps businesses make informed decisions. Further, introducing data analytics in introductory accounting courses provides a stepping-stone to more advanced data analytics skills that can be incorporated in subsequent accounting and business courses.

Choosing the Right Tools

There are several data analytics tools that can easily be integrated into an introductory accounting course, including Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Power BI, and Tableau. The most accessible and familiar tool is Excel since students often have the Microsoft Office suite of programs already installed on their computers. Power BI can be downloaded for free from the web without registration, but its main drawback is that it can't be used on a computer running the Mac operating system (OS). To run Power BI, users need to install Windows on their Mac. To use Tableau, which can run on either the Windows or Mac OS, instructors and students need to register for a free license key that's good for one semester or one year.

Table 1 summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of each tool with respect to teaching introductory accounting. It isn't comprehensive but instead is based on our experiences using each of these tools with our students.

In our opinion, we need to be tool-agnostic in our introductory courses. We aren't developing experts in Tableau or Excel, but rather we're teaching students how to learn and adapt to new tools. The pace of technological...

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