Documentation explains how AISs operate and is therefore a vital part of any accounting system. For example, documentation describes the tasks for recording accounting data, the procedures that users must perform to operate computer applications, the processing steps that AISs follow, and the logical and physical flows of accounting data through the system. This chapter explains in greater detail why accountants need to understand documentation and describes some tools for diagramming complex systems. Accountants can use many different types of logic charts to trace the flow of accounting data through an AIS. For example, document flowcharts describe the physical flow of order forms, requisition slips, and similar hard-copy documents through an AIS. These flowcharts pictorially represent data paths in compact formats and therefore save pages of narrative description. System flowcharts are similar to document flowcharts, except that system flowcharts usually focus on the electronic flows of data in computerized AISs. Other examples of documentation aids include process maps, data flow diagrams, program flowcharts, and decision tables. This chapter describes all of these documentation aids, as well as some computerized tools for creating them. Today, many end users develop computer applications for themselves. This end-user programming is very helpful to managers, who consequently do not require IT professionals to develop simple word-processing, spreadsheet, or database applications. But end-user programming can also be a problem because many employees do not know how to document their work properly or simply don’t do so. The final section of this chapter examines the topic of end-user programming and documentation in greater detail.
WHY DOCUMENTATION IS IMPORTANT
Accountants do not need to understand exactly how computers process the data of a particular accounting application, but it is important for them to understand the documentation that describes how this processing takes place. Documentation includes all the flowcharts, narratives, and other written communications that describe the inputs, processing, and outputs of an AIS. Documentation also describes the logical flow of data within a computer system and the procedures that employees must follow to accomplish application tasks. Here are nine reasons why documentation is important to AISs.
1. Depicting how the system works. Simply observing large AISs in action is an impractical way to learn about them, even if they are completely manual. In computerized systems, this task is impossible because the processing is electronic and therefore invisible. On the other hand, studying written descriptions of the inputs, processing steps, and outputs of the system make the job easier, and a few graphs or diagrams of these processing functions makes things easier still. This is one purpose of documentation-to help explain how an AIS operates. Documentation helps employees understand how a system works, assists accountants in designing controls for it, and gives managers confidence that it will meet their information needs. The Internet contains many examples of flowcharts or logic diagrams that help individuals understand unfamiliar tasks or processes. For example, some universities use them to show students what classes to take and when they should take them to complete their majors in a timely manner. The University of Washington has flowcharts that show how to obtain grants and other types of funding. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign uses elaborate diagrams to depict what happens when a faculty member’s employment terminates. Figure 3-1 is a logic diagram from the University of Arizona website that shows employees how to file a claim for reimbursement. If the employee would like additional information for any step in the process, a click of the mouse on the appropriate flowchart symbol reveals additional information.
2. Training users....