An interview with Brian Plowman, author of Activity Based Management
Here’s the first in a series of interviews designed to help you get to know more about our authors. The first interview is with Brian Plowman.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, ie what do you do within your profession, what specialist areas do you have?
My original degree is in Engineering with my first employment at British Aerospace where I was, in a small way, a rocket scientist. That does give me licence now to advise clients and know with some certainty that what I’m recommending is not ‘Rocket Science’. After high tech I had production engineering appointments in other sectors in the UK and mainland Europe and then as managing director of a number of manufacturing SMEs. Plenty of real world experience at the sharp end. My 30 years’ consulting experience stated at AT Kearney and then since 1988 as a founding partner of Develin & Partners. I have specialised in the development of methods for Activity Based Management and Business Process Management, and have applied these successfully in all sectors of the economy, both public and private. This ‘hands-on’ experience over the years has been invaluable when creating the course as it helps bring case studies to life in support of theory and principles.
Why do you think CPD is important?
Without CPD we all risk perpetuating the views we held in the past with a bit of new enlightenment gleaned from the jobs we have with our employers. Famously Henry Ford said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This risks allowing a gap to grow between our current knowledge and what we (and our employers) need to have as capabilities in order to keep the business effective and competitive.
What are your thoughts on online learning?
Good online learning experiences don’t set out to replace books or going on courses. Rather they major on what they are particularly good at which is to provide another route to knowledge using a medium that exploits technology to create a different learning experience. Uniquely it can enliven topics and help reinforce the learning points through using text and imagery in ways that conventional channels can’t produce. And the technology also helps the ‘housekeeping’ around learning in terms of keeping records of the learning process.
Why do you think our approach to online learning is better than others out there? (if indeed you do!)
In working with NelsonCroom I was particularly delighted by the way the creativity of their course designers brought my course topic to life. The style of approach to the learning experience that uses varying degrees of reinforcement through the different types of Q&As shows that they have a very good understanding of how to get the key points over to all types of learners.
Tells us a bit about the topics you focus on as an author with us.
My focus is a topic called ‘Activity Based Management’. Though it’s another three letter acronym it does at least succinctly describe what the course is about. Basically managing the business through gaining new insights from a base that means starting with the activities people undertake. Whereas the focus of accounting is the costs of resources and their consumption within functions, ABM seeks to assign costed activities through processes to the products and services the business provides to its customers. Now when these costs are compared to revenue they have a true measure of profitability. And that is very useful to know.
What’s hot in the finance industry at the moment?
I hear a lot about ‘Financial Sustainability’. Its not so long ago when ‘sustainability’ was all about Green and the Environment and Renewable Resources. ‘Financial Sustainability’ is now a generic term for ‘doing things to improve our survival prospects’.
Why is this important?
The recession seems to have shaken people more than other downturns we’ve experienced, probably because of the rapidity that misfortune fell so quickly and undeservedly on so many organisations.
What benefits would people get from learning about it?
Rather than simply be overcautious and batten down the hatches there is a mood that suggests that firms want to be better prepared and more robust so they can weather future storms. Sustainability has many facets; income, costs, competencies and so forth. Firms need to be far fitter.
What thoughts do you have on what it is to be an accountant/finance professional today?
The ‘law of accountants’ still mitigates against accountants being able to have more influence on the performance of the business. The ‘law’ determines that there will only ever be just enough accountants to get through the numbers at month end by the close date. This means little spare capacity to interpret the data let alone analyse from new perspectives. Given more time and more freedom I would expect accountants to be leading movements in every business to try and get to the bottom of true profitability and so provide guidance to ensure that profitable products and services went to profitable customers – by design and not by luck.
Would you be able to share any general thoughts you have on the accounting/finance industry?
(same issue as one above)
What motivates you to be an author?
When I was running companies I found that I couldn’t seem to get a firm grip on what made money or not, and very importantly why. I later found this seemed to be a problem in every business. A real black hole into which lots of monthly data poured but no insights emerged. Activity Based Management isn’t the whole answer but it goes a long way to helping provide useful knowledge. Getting this message over seems to be a useful thing to be doing.