4.2 Qualitative v. quantitative data
Accountants do not, traditionally, deal with qualitative data, such as whether a customer was happy or sad, or whether it looked like it would rain when a customer bought an umbrella.
Why do you think accountants do not normally deal with qualitative data? Take a minute to write down your answer.
Qualitative data is not objective. It cannot be reliably verified. Quantitative data can often be verified – you can see the evidence on paper that it is correct. For example, if it was recorded in the information system that a certain customer said they liked the flavour of the ice cream in an ice cream shop, you’d find it very difficult to prove that that customer actually said that. On the other hand, the cost of raw materials entered in the accounting records can be checked against the data on the invoices received from the suppliers. Accountants like things to be clear and unambiguous, for there to be no doubt, for the amounts they present to be clearly verifiable.
Accountants believe that dealing with qualitative data is someone else's task, so they leave it to engineers, marketing staff and others to make what they can of it. There is a school of thought that believes this to be very short-sighted of the accountants, and that by doing so they run the risk of losing out in the long-run to members of other professions who extend their expertise to encompass the processing of both qualitative and quantitative data.
What do you think? Should accountants restrict themselves to processing financial and other quantitative data? Why/why not?
The rational answer to this question is ‘no’, accountants need to be more flexible, more willing to embrace new sources of data that can enable them to provide ever-better information. However, before they rush off into these new areas, they must first master the basics of accounting, which is what you are in the process of doing.
Now let's consider what makes information ‘good’.