Accounting information systems michigan state university

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Spring 2005
Professor: Bill McCarthy
Office: N228 North Business College Complex

Off. Hours: see diagram at end of syllabus
Mail: 432-2913 (voice mail); (email);
Text: Enterprise Information Systems: A Pattern-Based Approach by Dunn, Cherrington, and Hollander (referred to as Dunn in schedule). ISBN 0-07-240429-9 (McGraw-Hill).

Course Overview:

How do we build information systems that meet multiple accounting needs for transaction processing, control specification, and financial statement preparation while simultaneously supporting the needs of a variety of other decision-makers in finance, management, marketing, and supply chain logistics? This course answers that question with a strong emphasis on the design and use of conceptually modeled databases. An accounting database is a model of the reality surrounding an evolving business enterprise, including its past set of accountability transactions, its present set of commitments and claims, and its future set of plans and policies.

Designing a good enterprise database system starts with recognizing how a company deploys its resources and people to create value for its customers and hence a profit for its owners. We call a model of this strategic process the Business Entrepreneur Script. Once a company's script for profitable economic behavior has been specified, each process in that script can be described further as a value-added exchange where the enterprise gives up or consumes some resources (such as its stock of talent, raw materials, and computing power) and takes back or produces something of greater value to its customers (such as a completed job). Each of these exchanges can be separately modeled in a database, and when we put them all together, we have a complete picture of an enterprise's value-chain and a starting specification of its enterprise information architecture. As illustrated in Figure 1, each link or process of this value chain can be exploded into two mirror-image patterns of objects for database implementation purposes. As we will also see later in the term, the events of these patterns can themselves be decomposed further to illustrate the set of tasks or workflow necessary to accomplish them. From this transaction-processing base, we will see that it is possible to produce almost all of the internal or external financial assertions that you learn about in your other accounting courses (such as cost reports, tax transaction information, income statements, and balance sheets). Building these accountability information infrastructures is where we will spend most of our time during January and early February. Our emphasis there will be on building accounting information systems able to answer the question of “What actually occurred ?” in this company with regard to its value chain and business process components.
During the middle days of February, we will extend the abstract and temporal dimensions of our business process models to begin to address the questions of “What should be?” for matters like internal control and policy specification, and “What is scheduled?” for matters like planning and supply chain coordination (see figure 2 illustration). Our first exam on February 28 will exhaustively evaluate your progress in understanding all of these structures.
After our mid-term break, we will apply our business process patterns to some of the more difficult transaction cycles within modern business enterprises like manufacturing and other conversions. We will finish the course by reviewing the wide variety of software implementation platforms available in the marketplace, ranging from small stand-alone accounting packages to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to XML-based e-commerce frameworks. We have an additional modeling examination in early April and an essay-oriented final on the 4th of May.
In ACC-321 at Michigan State, we use the software package MS-ACCESS to implement the information systems designed in the modeling processes described above, but students in this class will be able to transfer their knowledge directly to a multitude of comparable database and enterprise packages. We will also relate the use of our design techniques to more traditional types of accounting systems in both concept and practice, and we will finish by reviewing the costs and benefits of all varieties of information systems in actual corporate use.

The objectives and material content of this course are most applicable to those students headed for general accounting (non-technical) careers. When students leave this course, it is my goal that they will be able to take any information system that they encounter in practice and relate its features to the conceptual enterprise framework learned here. This should give students a sound basis for understanding the functioning of those systems. Additionally, because this course strongly emphasizes conceptual design first and cost-benefit compromise only as a secondary step (to be examined after the mid-term break), the lessons learned here should strongly dispose students toward demanding that the computer systems they use be as flexible and non-artifactual as possible. This will allow them to be informed consumers and users of high quality enterprise software. The objectives and content of ACC-321 are also applicable to those students who are using the course as a first step toward an eventual career in systems analysis, information systems consulting, or automated risk services (computer audit) careers. If this class looks like something you might enjoy as a career, we need to talk about your options before the end of the term. This course does often persuade people to become “system accountants” for life.

A detailed explanation of the course grading components and procedures follows next. This is followed by a detailed week-by-week schedule. Please note the examination times and plan for them accordingly.
Students should pay special attention to the description of ESSAY and CLASSWORK grading components. One of your essays is due very soon, and my description of what I expect is a good summary of my experiences in teaching this class recently. From experience, I also realize that my standard of class-work is different from what students assume. Please look it over and see if you have any immediate questions.

ACC-321 – SPRING 2005

Modeling Exam#1 25

Modeling Exam#2 15

Final Exam 15

Take-Home Quizzes 05

Team Project (ACCESS) 08

Indiv. Projects (ACCESS) 14

Essays 08

Classwork 10


a. EXAMINATIONS -- There will be three exams: two data modeling (25 & 15 %), and a final essay exam (15%). The two modeling exams look exactly like the take-home quizzes, so there will be no surprises. I give modeling exams at night to avoid time pressures on these comprehensive problems, and they usually take about three hours (I make it up to you in time with four classes off). The list of possible questions for the final (all essay questions out of which I will pick four) and my essay grading criteria are included at the end of this syllabus. My exams are curved with a 2.8-2.9 average and a 4.0 high. Exams certainly constitute the most difficult component of the course, and it is not unusual that the averages hover around 70% with a top of approximately 90%. All students (regardless of their exam abilities) have a chance to excel in work to be completed at their own pace (45% of grade).

b. TAKE-HOME QUIZZES (THQ) -- The take-home quizzes are worth 5%, and I assign them when a certain set of learning objectives is ready to be assessed. All of the TH quizzes are old test questions. Students grade their own take-home quizzes right in class. I usually assign a default grade of 3.0 to students who have done all the quizzes and then assess them individually as needed (TH Quizzes never hurt your grade if you do all of them; they always hurt your grade if you skip them). Past students have told me often that timely completion of the take-homes is the key to learning the complex modeling skills of the course and to doing well on the exams. Realistically, you cannot afford to skip any of these assignments. Since THQs must be done alone by the submitting student, I will also distribute other modeling problems (designated on the schedule with **) that people can do together. Using these secondary (**) problems during office hour sessions allows me to establish a learning “rhythm” to the course that many students find especially useful.

  1. ESSAYS -- During the second week of class, I will ask students to submit a 5-6 page essay that encompasses the following topics: (1) a summary of their experiences with computers and information systems, (2) an estimation of how knowledge about intra-enterprise information systems and inter-enterprise information systems fits into their long and short term career plans, (3) a candid self-assessment of their individual intellectual strengths and learning styles, (4) an assessment of how the ACC-321 course materials and learning strategies (as they understand them after one week) fit their individual styles and strengths, and (5) how they plan to reconcile differences between (1) and (2) and between (3) and (4).

This first essay will be evaluated on presentation, content, and imagination. I will not grade and return these essays to students until later in the term, because I want a chance to read them when I know people better.

With regard to points (3) and (4) above, I know from past experience that many students who have reveled in their ability to solve computational and/or objective essay problems in accounting will find the course content of this systems class to be "different." For example, I never have need for calculators on exams, and the concept of a single "correct answer" simply doesn't apply to most problems. I don’t use objective testing very much. The course emphasizes designing systems to support decision makers, many of whom want different “spins” on basic economic data. Dealing with "types" of problems instead of individual problems themselves means comprehending and learning at a more abstract level. When you make a database design decision for instance, you are not modeling a particular event (like a single sale) or a particular person (like a single customer), you are modeling the pattern of those phenomena for the rest of the company's existence. You shouldn't get the mistaken impression that there are no right and wrong answers in data modeling. As some of you might see on exams and take-home quizzes, this is certainly not the case. However, the range of acceptable solutions and justifications for those solutions is comparatively broad in traditional accounting terms, and this ambiguity increases as the term goes on.
In the past, I have told students that this is a left-handed (intuitive, simultaneous, wants overview, notices patterns) course while many others are right-handed (rational, sequential, interested in details, detects features). That is probably an over-generalization, but it is certainly the case that the types of conceptual skills you learn in ACC-321 can be used successfully in many occupations (the most prominent of which is, of course, technology-oriented public accounting careers). You can think of this course as an exercise in trying to get your left-brain (right-handed) self to cooperate with your right-brain self. If you loved high school algebra but hated calculus, or if you did well on the SAT/ACT/ math part but came up to less than what you wanted on the verbal part, you have an idea of the challenges that lay ahead this term. THINK CONCEPTUAL, THINK VISUAL, THINK BIG, and THINK IMAGINATIVELY will be some of our bywords throughout the term.
At the end of the course, students will be responsible for a second essay that will serve as a final check for both me and you. In this paper, students will be asked to evaluate their progress with course learning objectives. They will also be asked to evaluate how well their performances on exams, quizzes, and computer projects seem to reflect their own self-estimation of their mastery of course material. In a sense, ESSAY #1 sets some goals and strategies for the course, while ESSAY #2 evaluates the progress of student and teacher in meeting those goals and in using those strategies. This second essay will also be evaluated on presentation, content, and imagination.
d. COMPUTER PROJECTS (CP) -- There will be four projects assigned in the course:

  1. a small introductory exercise that familiarizes individual students with ACCESS (4%);

  2. an enterprise data modeling exercise called Sy’s Fish that requires an individual student to populate multiple business processes of an example company with an MS-ACCESS database (6%),

  3. an internal control documentation and specification exercise for Sy’s Fish (4%); and

  4. a two-part project involving financial statement preparation for a manufacturing firm called VENTURA VEHICLES (8%). Ventura is done in teams with ACCESS and a spreadsheet package. There is also a narrative part to this project and a team presentation on the 13th of April. Team members rate each other for both contribution and cooperation.

All computer projects given to me are assumed to be the work solely of the submitting student. No solutions from past terms or other people are acceptable. Violations of this policy can cause failure on the project.

e. CLASSWORK -- Conceptual modeling of business phenomena leading to cost-beneficial enterprise information systems is the focus of this course, and it is a difficult problem-solving skill that takes time, patience, and practice to master. Class lectures concentrate on this skill throughout the term. Students realistically cannot afford to miss class, and if you do, I expect to be notified. The assigned book and paper readings provide more conceptual instruction in representation and modeling.
Classwork will count for 10% of the grade points available for the term, and it will comprise both everyday participation and preparation (as assessed by the teacher) and cooperative learning participation and preparation (as assessed by peers). Points are added for average or above average performances; points are subtracted for below average performances or cuts. Simply coming to class will not add to the assessment of everyday participation, but cutting class will certainly detract from it. I expect involved participation and sharing of ideas, problems, and misunderstandings -- a standard that is different from attentive note-taking. Class participation is assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively, with most emphasis on the former. As a matter of procedure, I usually note the class composition on my seating chart at the start of the period, and then I note participation on that chart during my time after class. I don’t aggregate class grades until the term is finished. One important note: with a dismal classwork record, it is possible to affect more than 10% of a final grade. Such cases happen more often than one might think. I am sure that this will not be the case here, but note the possibility.
If you use a computer for note-taking, I do not allow Internet connection during class. Also, I expect that all cell-phones are silenced during class, and they should not be present for exams.

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