Automation and management control in dynamic environments: Managing organisational flexibility and energy efficiency in service sectors

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Journal Article
British Accounting Review, 2019
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© 2019 Automation has been conceptually explained in management accounting research as an antecedent to control problem avoidance (Emmanuel, Merchant, & Otley, 1990). However, the question of how automation is implicated in more dynamic service-based environments remains unanswered. We apply the Adler and Borys' (1996) bureaucracy framework to explain how enabling controls allow organisations to simultaneously pursue organisational flexibility and energy efficiency (Ahrens & Chapman, 2004; Jorgensen & Messner, 2009). Subsequently, we examine how automation and its related management control are designed and used in a dynamic service-based organisation, where goal attainment and the energy efficiency of its buildings are critical. In doing so, we explain how automation-related standardisation is adjusted by enabling control attributes (repair, flexibility, internal transparency) to advance user flexibility. Additionally, standardisation minimises the loss in energy efficiency when less optimal repair control behaviour manifests. Our study adds more depth to the work by Merchant and Van der Stede (2017) by exploring how automation complements labour in dynamic environments. Our findings offer greater understanding of how automation and management control systems are designed and used to enhance organisations' energy efficiency in dynamic service-based environments. In doing so, we advance extant environmental management accounting studies (Virtanen, Tuomaala, & Pentti, 2013).
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