Yes, I have not written for a while, but one question was disturbing me for quite a long time now. Especially after looking at few software solutions for Activity Based Costing. Some of them are now called Profitability and Cost Management solution. The question is, do we need to have structural compartments (aka Modules) like ‘resource’, ‘activity’ and ‘cost objects’ in those solutions? I understand that all those solutions have been designed quite a few years back and they are mostly based on the CAM-I cross.
The CAM-I cross told us that the vertical flow is the cost flow and it flows from resources to activities to cost objects. Cost objects are the final destination points for which we calculate costs for. As such the Activity Based Costing requires three phases as resources, activities and cost objects. All the software solutions based on this concept created in there solutions three modules as the same. Also the diagram also shows that the cost flows from resource to activity and activity to cost objects. Again the solutions had assignments that can have cost flow like resource-activity, activity-cost object or resource-cost object. Some of the solutions have resource-resource, activity-activity or cost object-cost object assignment (intra-module) facility. Almost none (actually I wanted to write ‘none’ here, but I cannot claim that I have seen all the solutions) of the solutions have cost assignment possible (directly) from activity-resource or cost object-activity or cost object-resource. Where ever it is possible, one has to create some work around to handle this.
I certainly do not want to say all this is bad. But it was based on the concepts and methodologies adopted at that time. It is more than 20 years that the concept has been around. We have seen many changes in the Body of knowledge, implementation methods, uses and software solutions in those years. Few things still remain as they were earlier like
1) The solutions are having resource, activity and cost object as structural divisions.
2) The follow up of this is, assignment are not possible in the reverse order (as direct functionality)
Let us take one example of distributing the cost of ‘shared service functions’. These functions like HR, Admin or IT provide services all other functions in the organization. To distribute their cost based on the ‘cause-and-effect’ relationship, we create following steps
a) Define the services provided by those function. For example recruit people, manage hotel booking, manage software solutions.
b) Calculate the cost of each of these services
c) Assign cost of those services based on the volume of the services consumed by each of the other functions
d) This cost is as good as the other expenses (like employee cost, travel cost etc.) of the functions
This scenario cannot be created as it is defined here as a direct functionality.
Some of the software solutions where one can create intra module assignments, here is one of the ways
i) Enter cost of the shared services in the resource section
ii) Define the services of the shares service function in the resource section. Actually they are processes or activities.
iii) Calculate the unit cost of services. Resource-resource assignment.
iv) Assign those services cost to other functions resource-resource assignment
Some solution that do not have resource-resource assignment facility, but activity-activity assignment facility
i) Enter cost of shared service function in resource section
ii) Define services of shared service function in Activity section.
iii) Calculate the cost of the services
iv) Assign those services to the activities of other function that are consuming those services. Activity-activity assignment
Similarly the cost of Procurement department has to be calculated as vendor wise-material wise and then takes as additional cost of the material. This scenario will also require a big juggling in creating the model in the solutions.
The absence of the other functionality that of flowing cost in the reverse way i.e. cost-object-activity, activity-resource (as a direct functionality) is creating a challenge. This is especially when one has to create the ‘bottom-up’ model or Activity Based Budgeting/Planning (ABB/P) model.
Activity based costing is based on the concept of ‘cause-and-effect’ relationship. As such there should not be any restriction on what is a source and destination. Actually I am suggesting that there should not be a rigid concept of ‘resource-activity-cost object’. All these sections should be logical. User should be able to create as many sections as she wants and call them whatever she wants to. Once this restriction goes then we call the solution as ‘Cause and Effect Profitability Management Solution’.
This type solution can be used for single level assignment of costs or multilevel assignment (2, 3 or even more). One need not worry about the concept of whether it is resource or activity or cost object. Just select ‘source’ and ‘destination’, link them, add driver and driver quantities and calculate.
I have called this solution as Profitability Management solution (not only cost) purposely. Profit is a function of Revenue and Cost. Most of the solutions are built upon the concept of cost assignment. What I mean is, those solutions allow us to create a flow of cost. Revenue is directly entered against product-customer-channel combination and profitability is calculated. This was based on the concept that is related to manufacturing industry In the Telecom industry the revenue is bundled for many services that are used by the consumer it is very difficult to create a profitability scenario. A lot of free services (completely or partially) are also included. There is also volume based revenue for certain services. If we try to use the usual functionality of the software solutions, it is very difficult to create this scenario. So the solutions should have the functionality of calculating multiple measures (cost, revenue, discount etc.) based on ‘cause-and-effect’ relationship to calculate profitability at the end.
The flow of measures is based on ‘cause-and-effect’ and it contains the functionality to flow the information for all the measures that contribute to Profit. Hence the solution should be ‘Cause and Effect Profitability Management Solution’
The benefits this type of solution is full flexibility of modeling for profitability. It could be single level or multi-level. We can calculate standard costs (multi-level calculation) and then compare with actual. More than the usual variances of quantity, rate, mix etc. can be available. We will be able to use the same solution for Revenue planning and it can become a real Profitability Management solution as it can plan and get actuals to analyze the variances in Revenue, cost and hence, profit.
Please provide your comments or suggestions on this concept of the solution. I have not seen all the software solutions in their current forms, so some of the functionalities may be already available. Is there a solution already in the market which can be called as ‘Cause and Effect Profitability Solution’?