Reliable accounting information systems (AIS) is one of the most important parts of maintaining a company’s financial health. To make sure things continue to run smoothly, employers, such as public accounting firms, may turn to an information system specialist to provide ocassional services or oversee operations, especially if they also have management accounting practical experience.
AIS is a career focus that’s increasingly in demand. Read on to learn more about what accounting systems specialists do, and why they’re an important part of an accounting department and the industry as a whole.
What are Accounting Information Systems?
Accounting systems are the method through which a business keeps track of its financial information. It’s where organizations enter, collect, store, and perform data processing in order to create reports, file taxes, and ensure that they remain in legal compliance with the federal government.
Each information system typically contains six distinct elements: procedures and instructions determined by policy, data, people, software, IT infrastructure, and internal controls. When you pursue a career in AIS, you’ll play a key role in the information system.
As much as businesses need a solid AIS, they also need someone who knows how to use it. Companies are likely to turn to a specialist when they first need to implement their AIS, and to take care of any issues that may arise while using it. They may hire their own specialist or internal auditor for an existing computer system if they are a big enough company, or they may turn to consulting firms to get them the system they need for the accounting functions they must complete.
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What Does an AIS Specialist Do?
An AIS specialist is unique in their ability to bridge the gap between accounting and IT. They’re familiar with the information needed by accountants to do their job correctly, and they know how to format or choose from the software offered in order to handle their needs.
The specific job duties of an AIS specialist often vary based on the size of the company they work for and the position that they hold. In large corporations, an AIS specialist may act as a liaison between the accounting and IT departments within an office, supporting communication and understanding so that it is seemless for each area. At a smaller business without an entire department dedicated to accounting, they are more likely to handle all of the functions of a staff accountant or bookkeeper, while understanding the possible appliations of an accounting system and maintaining system security.
Here's an overview of a few ways an AIS specialist might use their expertise within the accounting field.
Gone are the days when accountants had to comb through financial reports with a fine-toothed comb.
Automation is quickly establishing itself as the future of accounting and business in general. With an effective accounting system in place, companies can bypass the need to hire an entire team of low level accountants to handle their sensitive financial data. Instead they may hire a specialist and a certified public accountant to maintain connections with consultants.
The ability to automate tasks such as creating receipts, tracking inventories, and running analyses has effectively taken them out of the hands of accountants, in many cases. Working with programmers, AIS analysts can help to guide the creation of software that gets the job done for their clients while adhering to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
A systems analyst can also look at an existing AIS and assess whether it’s as effective as it could be. By tightening up any data leaks along the way, the AIS will be more secure and more accurate in its reporting. Analytical skills that will help interpret data and perform systems analysis are becoming some of the most in-demand skills on the market, rather than data entry or tracking financial transactions. The bottom line is that accounting students should make every effort to gain work experience with accounting software, forensic accounting, business valuation, business administration, and other vital skills. Whether you're still in college or university, or not, you'll increase your opportunities and gain access to higher salaries by including these accounting skills in your degree program or continuing education.
Computers are playing an increasingly large role in how small and international businesses view and approach accounting. An accountant with deep understanding of and familiarity with information systems will have a leg up over less tech-savvy colleagues within the finance industry.
Accountants with a background in AIS may have an increased ability to effectively make the system work for their purposes. They’ll need to know how to use and access the data stored, and how to process a number of different functions, like creating reports, analyzing budgets and financial statements, and preparing tax information.
Accountants may confer with programmers and systems analysts to communicate the specific needs their business or firm have for managing their data. They know what to look for to make sure that their company’s AIS is running efficiently, and may be more able to detect potential issues before they become larger problems.
Instead of using their skills for a single company, AIS specialists can often find lucrative employment in the consulting field working for public accounting firms and others.
The details of a consulting job will change depending on the needs of each client. Often, an outside source with a fresh set of eyes can find issues in a system that internal accounting staff may not. A consultant can provide a new perspective in the realistic strengths and weaknesses of a company’s AIS.
AIS consultants can also be of great help when it’s time to set up a new information system. They’ll be able to assess and account for contingencies when designing a plan that works for their client. AIS consultants will know what to look for in creating a system that meets requirements and stays within federal compliance.
Accounting information systems are essential when it comes to generating the data executives will need to make the best fiscal decisions for their business. A chief financial officer (CFO) who knows how to maximize the effectiveness of AIS output will have the financial information they need at their fingertips.
In today’s competitive job market, AIS certification is just one more useful credential that an aspiring CFO, or any accounting manager or certified management accountant, can have under their belt. It will tell management that a candidate has an interested eye toward the future and a mind for technological progress in the field.
Most AIS specialist positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Many students on the AIS career path choose to earn a major in accounting with a minor in computer science or information systems. Others go for a major in computer or IT with a minor in accounting or business. The best path for each student depends on the career they hope to pursue upon graduating.
Depending on the school, students may be able to get a focused education in AIS with a special certificate program. To qualify, students generally have to complete a number of courses in accounting and auditing along with a business major. They may also have to renew certification with continuing education going forward. Classes in management accounting can also be useful, as specializing in information systems will require a great deal of real world knowledge application.
Undergraduate students can prepare for a career in AIS by taking a course load that’s heavy on information systems credit hours. These may include standard IT courses like systems design, database development, and analysis courses. They may also include more AIS specific classes that will give students an understanding of how accounting information systems directly impact the effectiveness and outcomes of a business’s overall financial plan.
AIS specialists looking for certification in their field have several different options to choose from.
CPAs can add an additional certification to their training with the Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) Credential. To earn this designation, accountants must show an understanding of information management, risk assessment and management, fraud prevention, and internal controls. Candidates must also pass an exam, which costs $300 in fees and takes about four hours to complete.
Accountants can also choose to pursue the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification. This can indicate competence in AIS, as learning about information systems is a large part of the required coursework.
To qualify for the CIA, candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field, as well as 24 months of relevant experience. They must also pass the CIA exam, a four-part test that covers subjects involving auditing, business management, analysis, and information technology.
The CIA requires continued professional education (CPE) credits to maintain certification. CIA certified accountants must complete 80 hours of CPE credit every two years.
Those seeking a more technically geared certification might choose to get a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) credential. This requires candidates to have five years of professional experience prior to certification, as well as completion of a 200-question exam covering topics about auditing, IT, and information systems.
A CISA certification also requires CPE credits to remain up to date in the industry. To keep their certification valid, CISAs must complete 120 hours of education over three years, with a minimum of 20 hours per year. Many certificate holders decide to earn a graduate education with all the courses of study they take.
Salary and Career Outlook
The outlook is sunny for those going into the job force with a concentration in accounting information systems.
People using their AIS skills as an analyst or consultant can expect to enjoy steady job growth over the next several years, with a projected 14 percent jump by 2026. This is expected to rise as companies continue to prioritize efficiency and risk management in their business strategies. This is especially true in the healthcare industry, which is finding itself dealing with the high costs of an aging population.
As of 2017, analysts and consultants earned a median salary of $82,450 per year. Despite the abundance of jobs, the high pay of this career makes it a particularly competitive one. Serious candidates may choose to pursue a professional certification or learn a niche skill to set themselves apart.
AIS specialists who opt to go down the accounting or auditing route can also expect to enjoy a positive career outlook. Accounting and auditing careers are projected to increase by ten percent by 2026. A strengthening global economy, combined with complicated and frequently changing tax regulations, are major catalysts for job growth in this industry.
Accountants with a focus in AIS will be increasingly sought after as technology progresses and everyday accounting becomes more automated. A certification in information systems can keep accountants and auditors up to date with current goings-on, ensuring that they’re consistently in demand in a competitive job field.
As of 2017, the median pay for accountants and auditors was $69,350. The top ten percent of earners brought in more than $122,220, while the lowest ten percent earned about $43,000.