Big Data information governance by accountants

Published date05 March 2018
Date05 March 2018
AuthorEmily M. Coyne,Joshua G. Coyne,Kenton B. Walker
Subject MatterAccounting & Finance,Accounting/accountancy,Accounting methods/systems
Big Data information governance
by accountants
Emily M. Coyne
School of Information, San Jose State University, Jose State, California, USA, and
Joshua G. Coyne and Kenton B. Walker
School of Accountancy, University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
Purpose Big Data has become increasinglyimportant to multiple facets of the accounting profession, but
accountantshave little understanding of the steps necessary to convert Big Data into usefulinformation. This
limited understanding creates agap between what accountants can do and what accountants should do to
assist in BigData information governance. The study aimsto bridge this gap in two ways.
Design/methodology/approach First, the study introduces a model of the Big Data life cycle to
explain the processof converting Big Data intoinformation. Knowledge of this life cycle is a rst step toward
enabling accountantsto engage in Big Data information governance. Second, it highlights informationaland
control risks inherent to this life cycle, and identiesinformation governance activities and agents that can
minimizethese risks.
Findings Because accountants have a strong ability to identify the informational and control needs of
internaland external decision-makers, they shouldplay a signicant role in Big Data information governance.
Originality/value This model of the Big Data life cycle and information governance provides a rst
attemptto formalize knowledge that accountants need in a new eldof theaccounting profession.
Keywords Big data, Information governance, Information life cycle
Paper type Technical paper
1. Introduction
We present the life cycle by whichBig Data becomes useful information and to explain how
accountants can and should become involved in the governance of this process. We follow
three steps in the pursuit of this goal. First, we review the traditional information life cycle
as a foundation for the process by which data becomes information. Second, we identify
modications to the information life cycle to address theidiosyncrasies of Big Data. Third,
we introduce the concept of information governance and explain the role of accountants in
the information governance process. A proper understanding of the Big Data life cycle and
information governance will allow accountants to continue in and expand their role as
information custodiansin the current Information Era.
Previous studies show that information governance is important to the accounting
profession. Poor data governance standards impact accounting information quality (Song,
2016) and simply adopting previously successful models does not guarantee a positive
governance outcome (Ji et al., 2015). Also, good internal governance reinforces external
governance mechanisms to create rm value (Huang and Boateng, 2016). Furthermore,
corporate governance research from Taiwan suggests that independence of boards of
This work was supported in part by a grant from the Fogelman College of Business & Economics at
the University of Memphis.
Big Data
Received30 January 2017
Revised7 April 2017
Accepted2 May 2017
InternationalJournal of
Accounting& Information
Vol.26 No. 1, 2018
pp. 153-170
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/IJAIM-01-2017-0006
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
directors increases market-to-book ratios (Lin and Liu, 2015). Taken together, these studies
bolster the view that accountants have a vested interest in information governance
structures and policies.
The information life cycle has governed the creation, use and maintenance of data since
before the proliferation of digital information systems at a time when business data were
more uniform and sharedalong predetermined channels (Leahy, 1949). However,Big Data is
different. Big Datas primary differences were characterized by the 3-D model proposed by
Doug Laney (2001), sometimes referred to as the three Vs of Big Data[1]. Volume is the
reason that Big Data is referredto as Bigas businesses receive large amounts of data from
machines, transactions and social media interactions. Velocity references the high rate at
which large amounts of data are both created and become obsolete; real-time transaction
processing in e-commerce has been a big driver of the competitive acceleration in the
velocity of data processing. Variety describes the lack of uniformity in data sources
containing text, audio, video,image and other data types. We propose a life cycle model that
addresses the differences between traditional business data and Big Data. To our
knowledge, this is the rst attemptto develop an information life cycle that is specic to Big
Our primary motivation for introducing a revised life cycle is the current interest in Big
Data analytics. However, more than a life cycleis necessary to convert Big Data into useful
information. Information governance assigns business, legal and IT specialists the task of
developing and maintaining information systems that meet consumersinformational and
control needs (Smallwood,2016). Collaboration among these parties stands juxtaposedto the
traditional model of siloed IT departments,which model has come under increased criticism
in recent years (Zetlin, 2014). Accountants, in their capacity as business specialists, have
unique expertise in business intelligence,regulatory compliance and internal controls, which
make them valuable collaborators in information governance. As a result, in addition to
introducing a Big Datalife cycle, we describe the activities that accountants can engagein to
increase their participation in information governance. Despite this appeal to accountants,
we also recognize that information governance is a shared responsibility and that IT
specialists must also increase their willingness and ability to work with accountants on
information system solutions that will result in improved collection and analysis of Big
This paper has implicationsfor both business and academia. First, business leaders have
used popular IT and business mediaoutlets in their appeal for added collaboration between
business and IT specialists. We support this effort by encouraging accountants to become
involved in information governance. Second, by proposing a new life cycle model to
accommodate the idiosyncrasies of Big Data, we push the frontiers of both academic and
business knowledgeregarding sound treatment of Big Data in the current Information Era.
This paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2, we review the steps in the traditional
information life cycle. In Section 3, we identify necessary modications to convert the
information life cycle into the Big Data life cycle. In Section 4, we discuss the role of
accountants in the governanceof the Big Data life cycle. In Section5, we conclude.
2. A review of the traditional information life cycle
The information life cycle is the processby which data become usable information; it covers
all aspects of the datas use from their creation to their deletion. This is the core of the
information science discipline, and its principles govern the design of information systems
(Hoke, 2011). The steps in the information life cycle are needs assessment, data acquisition,

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