Activity Based Costing - Definition and Concept

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Activity based costing
Definition and concept
‘An approach to the costing and monitoring of activities which involves tracing resource consumption and costing final outputs. Resources are assigned to activities, and activities to cost objects based on consumption estimates. The latter utilise cost drivers to attach activity costs to outputs.’ Activity-based costing (ABC) is a costing methodology that identifies activities in an organization and assigns the cost of each activity with resources to all products and services according to the actual consumption by each. This model assigns more indirect costs(overhead) into direct costs compared to conventional costing. CIMA Official Terminology, 2005

A development of the principles of activity based costing (ABC) is activity based management (ABM). Operational ABM is defined as:
‘Actions, based on activity driver analysis, that increase efficiency, lower costs and/or improve asset utilisation.’ CIMA Official Terminology, 2005
Strategic ABM is defined as:‘Actions, based on activity based cost analysis, that aim to change the demand for activities so as to improve profitability.’ CIMA Official Terminology, 2005
The main focus of this topic gateway is ABC. However, the development of ABC into ABM will be discussed further under Application. The concept of ABC was first defined in the late 1980s by Robert Kaplan and William Burns. Initially ABC focused on manufacturing industry where technological developments and productivity improvements had reduced the proportion of direct labour and material costs, but increased the proportion of indirect or overhead costs.

Comparison of traditional costing and ABC
The traditional method of costing relied on the arbitrary addition of a proportion of overhead costs on to direct costs to attain a total product cost. The traditional approach to cost allocation relies on three basic steps. 1. Accumulate costs within a production or non-production department. 2. Allocate non-production costs to production departments. 3. Allocate the resulting production department costs to various products, services or customers. This type of costing system usually allocates costs based on a single volume measure, such as direct labour hours or machine hours. While using such a simplistic volume measure to allocate overheads as an overall cost driver, this approach seldom meets the cause-and-effect criteria desired in accurate cost allocation. This method of costing has become increasing inaccurate as the relative proportion of overhead costs has risen. This distortion of costs can result in inappropriate decision making. ABC is therefore an alternative approach to the traditional method or arbitrary allocation of overheads to product, services and customers. AIM of the model

With ABC, an organization can soundly estimate the cost elements of entire products and services. That may help inform a company's decision to either: * Identify and eliminate those products and services that are unprofitable and lower the prices of those that are overpriced (product and service portfolio aim) * Or identify and eliminate production or service processes that are ineffective and allocate processing concepts that lead to the very same product at a better yield (process re-engineering aim). In a business organization, the ABC methodology assigns an organization's resource costs through activities to the products andservices provided to its customers. ABC is generally used as a tool for understanding product and customer cost and profitability based on the production or performing processes. As such, ABC has predominantly been used to support strategic decisions such as pricing, outsourcing, identification and measurement of process improvement initiatives.

Application
In contrast to traditional cost accounting systems, ABC systems first accumulate overheads for each organisational activity. They then assign the costs of these activities to products,...
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