Merging management accounting with database design: management accountants have a greater opportunity to support the implementation of corporate strategy when they are involved in developing IT databases using a conceptual design tool in concert with the balanced scorecard.
We assert in this article that management accountants have a greater opportunity to support corporate strategy when they are involved in developing IT databases using a conceptual design tool in concert with the balanced scorecard (BSC). We try to establish a logical link between the design potential of the REA model and the performance measurement framework of the BSC. This link provides the basis for an integrated conceptual database design framework that will enable management accountants to assist in the development of meaningful accounting information systems and establish their role as partners in the development and evaluation of corporate strategy and planning.
Peter Drucker spoke of the turbulence in accounting that is becoming evident as the CFO's role in organizational strategy undergoes a transformation. (1) Now that structured tasks are computerized, which has resulted in reengineering and some outsourcing of traditional accounting tasks, management accountants who use only the traditional skills required for such tasks do so at their and the profession's peril. The work of management accountants has become analytical and decision oriented, but these financial professionals are unable to fully realize the changes in their role unless they become partners in the design and development of the information systems in their organizations. To become partners, management accountants need to develop and identify tools that give them greater insight into database development processes.
We will describe two developments in accounting: the resources, events, and agents (REA) model and the balanced scorecard (BSC) model. We assert that the two, operating together, can close the loop among the performance measurement, strategic decision-making, and systems design functions of a company.
The REA model, a conceptual model for database design, has the potential to enable management accountants to play an intrinsic role in the design of information systems. (2) The balanced scorecard provides a framework for an "integrated view" of the organization that extends beyond the traditional financial view. It also provides a wealth of information about the firm that can enable management accountants to define and describe entities in the database more accurately.
The objective of this article is to develop a basic framework for an integrated conceptual database design, incorporating strategy based on the BSC and using the "mixed" approach for designing schemas. (3) We will discuss (1) the problem confronting management accountants that leads to the need for a change in their role and, therefore, the usefulness of the framework; (2) the two tools, BSC and REA, that form the basis of the framework; (3) the details of the REA framework as an integrated systems design; and (4) the significance of the framework for integrating accounting models and information systems.
Information technology continues to transform the role and content of accounting. Drucker pointed out that advances in information technology have made accounting one of the most challenging and turbulent areas of management, increasingly creating an overlap of accounting and management information systems. (4) He said that while management systems personnel are generally more concerned with technical issues related to computer hardware and software, the "challenges increasingly will not be technical but instead will be to convert data into information that is actually being used." (5) Another perspective forecasts that, in the next 10 years, management accounting--probably under a different name--will produce a broad set of strategic and operational measurements of which financial accounting would be a subset. (6) With corporate strategies shifting from competing on cost to quality, time, and customer service, many more participants, such as engineers, IT professionals, and consulting firms, will compete with management accountants as information providers and may even have an advantage over them for specific types of information. In this changing environment, with the "need for real-time interpretations of this flood of information ... the challenge to accountants will be to prove their inherent competitive advantage in these changing roles." (7)
Are there developments in accounting aimed to meet these challenges? The traditional "accounting view" of the organization is insufficient to satisfy many "information customers." (8) Accounting systems, which are driven by transaction-based financial accounting requirements, capture limited characteristics of transactions. As a result, different functional areas maintain parallel information systems to cater to their individual needs, causing inefficiencies in data storage and making it difficult to integrate information across functional areas.
The key problem is antiquated design and development of accounting systems. The only planning in traditional accounting is the "chart of accounts," the first step in the accounting cycle that focuses on financial transactions and culminates in summarized, uniform financial statements. The accounting system still depends largely on the debit-credit model that has a 700-year history dating back to Luca Pacioli. This model had validity in manual systems and gave shape to accounting activities in traditional accounting. But with changes in the nature and size of firms and the advent of databases and online computing, this antiquated system has become a handicap to designing information systems required for executive decision making.
This situation has largely left information systems development activities to people in management information systems (MIS). MIS has developed the sequence of activities called "systems development life cycle" (SDLC), which includes systems planning, analysis, design, and implementation. Depicting the information systems in terms of Michael Porter's value chain concepts helps us gain insights into the issues that impact the development of corporate information systems, as shown in Figure 1. (9)
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The design phase of the SDLC adds value to the information system because it helps determine the adequacy and relevance of information for decision making. It is in this phase that the information for strategic and other decisions is framed and determined. Currently, information systems personnel from MIS departments, who are trained in technical aspects of information systems, play the key role in systems design and implementation activities. Management accountants, however, are in the position to be most knowledgeable about the information value chain and the means through which it can add value. Accordingly, as Michael Porter puts it, "No other business information system has the ability to combine the performance of all functions of a business into one set of measures, which has led accounting to be known as the 'language of business.'" (10) Peter Drucker, as quoted earlier, also predicted that the challenges to information systems would not be technical but rather would be the ability to translate data into information that is useful for decision making. Therefore, the key benefit of the information value chain would be to collect and present relevant information that would add value to control and decisionmaking processes. But traditional accounting systems give only a limited view of the organizational processes, which means management accountants are handicapped from playing a major role in the overall systems design. What is needed is an "integrated" and encompassing view of the organization. It can be provided by the REA model and the balanced scorecard, with management accountants deeply involved in both.
EMERGING TOOLS IN ACCOUNTING
The REA model provides management accountants with a tool for designing database systems. The balanced scorecard, a downstream activity in the information value chain, provides a framework of performance measures that can be used for communicating and measuring strategy and providing a framework for systems design. The two tools converge in the design phase of information systems development, and here management accountants have an opportunity to create a new role for themselves in the information systems area.
The balanced scorecard, described as a "strategic measurement system" (11) and "a comprehensive system of performance measurement," (12) has undergone refinements and extensions over the past decade since Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton introduced it in 1992. (13) From the perspective of conceptual design, however, the BSC is most useful when it operates as a measurement framework. For example, Andy Neely et al. asserted in 2000 that "undoubtedly one of the most widely recognized performance measurement frameworks of today is the balanced scorecard." (14)
In essence, the BSC is an integrated set of leading and lagging performance measures designed to capture an organization's strategy. The underlying rationale is that financial performance measures by themselves are lagging indicators because they convey information on the past activities of the firm. (15) A "balanced" measurement system should also include leading indicators--nonfinancial measures that capture the results of activities that drive financial performance. The BSC, therefore, is a combination of financial and nonfinancial performance measures, with the nonfinancial measures being indicators of implementing organizational strategy and the financial measures capturing the outcome of organizational strategy. The BSC's system of measures consists of four categories: financial performance, customer relations, internal business, and learning and growth. (16)
The BSC's customer relations perspective focuses on the impact of strategy on customer satisfaction in such areas as quality, time, performance, service, and cost. Customer satisfaction, however, is a result of the effectiveness of internal business processes throughout the organization. The internal business perspective captures organizational performance in core competencies and processes--in areas such as manufacturing, design, and new product development--at which the organization must excel to meet overall corporate goals and objectives. Intense global competition requires organizations to continuously improve products and processes and have the capability to introduce new ones. The learning and growth perspective considers the importance of continuous learning and innovations and focuses on measures of improvements in processes and products that meet corporate goals. The final indicator of the appropriateness of the organizational strategy--the financial perspective--shows whether improvements in the implementation of strategy translate into higher profitability. The financial perspective measures the financial performance of the organization using such traditional measures as cash flows, sales growth, and income.
Research into the balanced scorecard has been from two perspectives. The first examines the relevance of the underlying theory, particularly the influence of leading indicators on financial performance. Christopher Ittner and David Larcker, for example, found that customer satisfaction is a lead indicator of financial performance. (17) Rajiv Banker et al. also found that nonfinancial measures of customer satisfaction are significantly associated with future financial performance and contain additional information not reflected in the past financial measures. (18) Venky Nagar and Madhav Rajan found that nonfinancial measures of quality, such as defect rates and on-time deliveries, are lead indicators of future sales. (19)
A second perspective in the BSC research has examined various aspects of implementing the balanced scorecard successfully. Mary Malina and Frank Selto, for example, examined Kaplan and Norton's 1996 assertion that the BSC is not primarily an evaluation method but a strategic planning and communication device. (20) The results of their study indicated that well-designed and well-communicated BSCs appear to motivate lower-level managers to conform to corporate strategy. There was also evidence that poorly designed and inadequately communicated BSCs lead to adverse effects on the relationship between some top and middle-level management. Christopher Ittner et al. examined another aspect: the use of BSCs in incentive plans. They found that the subjectivity in weighting nonfinancial measures resulted in disarray in implementation of the plans. (21) Marlys Lipe and Stephen Salterio examined the use of unique and common measures across business units and found that common measures were used in the evaluation of business units whereas unique measures were not given importance in such evaluations. (22)
The research indicates that the BSC gives management accountants who are involved in financial accounting and reporting a role in the information value chain. The balanced system of measures that the BSC provides often suggests that information systems need to be integrated across functions. Kaplan and Norton see "functional silos" as handicaps in the development and implementation of strategy. They point out that, "Organizations are traditionally designed around functional specialties such as finance, manufacturing, marketing, sales, engineering, and purchasing. Each function has its own body of knowledge, language, and culture. Functional silos arise and become a major barrier to strategy implementation as most organizations have great difficulty communicating and coordinating across these specialty functions." (23) Management accountants can play a key role in harnessing the potential of a measurement system that encompasses the specialty functions.
Research has also helped in highlighting that systems design in the information systems value chain can have an important impact on the effectiveness of measurements. This confirms--and research supports--that management accountants should be more involved in systems design and implementation. It is at the design stage that these measures are fully integrated into the system. The relationship between meanings attached to different measures and the data that is collected must be consistent across functional areas and reflect business activities. Research confirms that measures commonly used across business units are more useful for decisions. This highlights the need for greater uniformity and comparability of measures. (24) In addition, the need to coordinate and communicate strategy throughout the organization also confirms the need for measures to cascade to different levels in the organization without changes in meaning. For example, Kaplan and Norton have indicated a link between the BSC implementation process and information systems when they point out that "a newly formed team develops an implementation plan for the scorecard, including linking the measures to databases and information systems, communicating the balanced scorecard throughout the organization, and encouraging and facilitating the development of second-level metrics for decentralized units. As a result of this process, an entirely new executive information system that links top-level business unit metrics down through shop floor and site-specific operational measures could be developed" (emphasis added). (25) The design of information systems, therefore, is an important component of implementing a BSC that conforms to corporate strategy.
The REA Diagram
The REA (resources, events, and agents) model is a conceptual modeling tool that supports the design of information systems. Conceptual models are a class of data models used to represent reality at a high level of abstraction. These models are machine independent and provide a description of reality that is easy to understand and interpret.
REA has several features that make it useful as a tool for management accountants. It captures the duality of economic transactions, that is, outflows and inflows of resources, as effectively as the "debits and credits" of traditional accounting. In addition, REA provides management accountants with a conceptual framework that can map features of the organization, describe business activities in meaningful detail, and help design databases with a broad and integrated perspective of the organization to support the information needs of internal and external users.
The REA model provides two views of the organization that support planning, control, and decision-making processes. The first consists of local views of the organization (also called external schema), and the second is an integrated enterprise-wide global view (also called conceptual view). To understand these views, we first need an understanding of the basic building blocks of REA.
REA consists of three types of entities, namely resources, operating events, and agents. A local view is more detailed than the enterprise-wide view. It depicts operating events and the resources and agents that relate to these events for different business processes. (See Figure 2 for the local view of a sales process.) Operating events are part of organizational processes. For example, receiving cash is an operating event that forms part of the sales process. The resource related to the event is cash, and the agents involved would include an internal agent (the salesperson) and an external agent (the customer). The most "elemental properties of entities or relationships" are called attributes, according to Batini et al. "All the extensional information is carried by attributes." (26) In essence, attributes are details of each entity. For example, in the case of the customer entity, the attributes can include customer address, total sales, frequency of sale, satisfaction feedback, and other such items as shown in Figure 2. The global view is an enterprise-wide integration of the local views, activities, and processes as shown in Figure 3. Figure 3 also illustrates the links among different processes in an organization, such as inventory purchase, sales, and financing.
[FIGURES 2-3 OMITTED]
These are fundamental building blocks of the REA model. They help connect the system of measures of an organization's strategy to its information systems database.
DEVELOPING A FRAMEWORK FOR AN ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS INTEGRATION
As a conceptual modeling design tool, REA meets the requirements for developing a database system to support strategic decision making. Conceptual design begins with the specification of requirements and ends with an enterprise-wide view of the database. (27) The purpose of the conceptual design is to describe the information content of the database. Developing a conceptual design can be a valuable exercise even if the final implementation uses conventional files and programming languages instead of a database management system.
The conceptual model for systems design forms an important link between the processes involved in the SDLC and the creation of value in the information value chain. Input from the user is vital to adequately determining the content of the database, particularly so that the meaning of measures and other information items correspond to the data. Carlo Batini et al. point out that "a stronger influence of the final user on design decisions has many positive consequences: the quality of the conceptual schema improves, the project most likely converges toward an expected result, and development costs decrease. More important, users who are more involved in the decision process are eventually more willing to accept and use the information system. Understanding the features of the database enhances the contractual clarity between the parties involved, namely users and designers." (28) The REA conceptual model facilitates user involvement because the most elemental component of REA--the attributes--links it to performance measures of the BSC, enabling the user to be directly involved in designing information systems that support decision making.
Framework for Strategy-Based Schema Design
In addition to the conceptual model, a framework for conceptual design also requires a strategy for determining the sources of data and the means by which they are integrated into the conceptual model. Batini et al. describe three key strategies for developing the conceptual design: the top-down strategy, bottom-up strategy, and mixed strategy. (29) The top-down strategy focuses on refinements in successive stages in conceptual design, beginning with the most broad and abstract outlines of the desired system, and introduces concrete details about the model, such as the relationships between functional areas, at successive levels. In contrast, the bottom-up strategy starts with elementary concepts, such as the needs of individual functional areas, and builds more complex concepts out of them, finally merging into a global schema. The third approach, the "mixed" approach, uses elements of the first two and is used in our framework for developing the conceptual model for systems design.
We will first outline some important features of the "mixed" approach. The system designer uses partitioned subsets of the application domain to lead to the comprehensive model. The subsets contain the details of the application areas and are developed using the bottom-up strategy. The designer, however, uses a skeleton schema, essentially a broad outline, to integrate the various aspects of the design. The skeleton schema acts as a frame and consists of the most important concepts of the application domain, allowing an easier bottom-up integration of the different schemas produced by the subsets. The REA model and the balanced scorecard are used in this mixed approach to arrive at the conceptual design, also called an integrated REA framework, of the information systems as shown in Figure 4. The REA model uses the BSC to translate strategy into measures that can be integrated into REA. The BSC, being a "measurement system," also forms the basis for the skeleton schema for the information systems. Selecting appropriate attributes forms an important link between systems and the decision-making tools.
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
In implementing an integrative REA model, there are two major stages involved. The first stage involves formulating organizational strategy and mapping it to the balanced scorecard. The importance of this stage cannot be overstated, and it is dealt with quite elaborately by Kaplan and Norton. (30) The second stage involves translating the BSC model into the REA conceptual model. Figure 4 depicts the two stages, the left side translating strategy to the BSC model and the right translating the BSC model to the REA conceptual model.
The REA framework begins with the development of the BSC strategic model to link organizational strategy to information systems. During this stage, the strategy of the organization is mapped to the BSC, which consists of objectives in the four perspectives and corresponding measures for each of the objectives. For example, an organization with a product differentiation strategy could make developing research skills the learning and growth objective, and the corresponding measure would be the number of research scientists hired. This would be linked to the internal business perspective with the objective of increasing innovation within the firm and measures such as the number of patents produced. This perspective would link with the customer perspective with the objective of increasing market share, measured by new customers. In this way, the BSC would provide an integrated system of measures based on the organizational strategy.
The BSC can be used in the second stage for translating the strategy to the REA model by helping develop the skeleton schema, which forms the basis for the mixed strategy of conceptual design. The skeleton schema provides a framework for the desired information systems model. The BSC is particularly useful in this respect because it identifies key objectives related to strategy and measures and provides insights into the logical relationship between these measures, forming a "measurement system." This skeleton schema can also determine the processes, such as the sales cycle, that relate to the strategy; the entities that are impacted, such as the external agent or customer; and the specific attributes related to the customer. The schema provides the outline for the top-down approach and also ensures that the final model corresponds to the BSC strategic model.
The design also follows a "bottom-up" approach where the measures derived from the BSC are decomposed into basic units of measurement to form the elemental properties of the REA model, i.e., the attributes. Some measures, such as "new customers from new products," may not require further decomposition and would be appropriate attributes linked to the entity, the customer. Other measures, such as return on investment, may require further decomposition into different elements to form the attributes that correspond to REA. Once the attributes are identified, the entities related to the measures are then determined. The entity for "new customers from product innovations" is the external agent in the REA model, the customer entity. Finally, the process itself is identified. In this example, it is the sales process. The bottom-up approach ensures that all measures are decomposed to form attributes.
The mixed strategy provides the skeleton schema that is the basis for the top-down approach for determining the processes impacted by the BSC (e.g., the sales process), the entities that relate to these processes (e.g., the customer), and the nature of the impact that is necessary as a result of the strategy (e.g., customer satisfaction). The two approaches would work iteratively to produce individual views. Integration of these views would result in the enterprise-wide schema. Taken together, the two approaches also make it possible to ensure that all the measures that are determined in the original strategy are included through the bottom-up approach and that other measures that may relate to the strategy may be found by using the top-down approach. The design from the two approaches is finally compared using the skeleton schema to ensure that the overall objectives of the strategy are retained.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE REA FRAMEWORK
Management accountants would benefit from REA because it would enable them to be more intrinsically involved in strategy and in the development of the information value chain.
Involvement with the BSC provides management accountants greater opportunity to partner with executive management in implementing strategy because the BSC is a system of measures that encompasses financial and nonfinancial measures and crosses functional boundaries. Systems based on functional areas form functional silos that restrict the involvement of management accountants in strategy implementation. Therefore, the themes embedded in the BSC must replace reporting structures under traditional systems created around functional areas.
Our proposed REA framework can help management accountants support the implementation of the BSC in their organizations. Research indicates that the key challenges to the success of the BSC relate to implementation issues. Kaplan and Norton assert that what distinguishes successful implementers of BSC is that they are "strategy-focused organizations" that have the ability to translate strategy into organizational action. (31) Success in translating the organizational strategy involves communicating the scorecard throughout the organization by integrating it effectively with the information systems. (32) The REA framework provides management accountants with a tool to map strategy--as reflected in the BSC measures--into the conceptual design and, finally, to integrate it into the information systems database. As Kaplan and Norton point out, implementing the BSC involves creating "an entirely new executive information system that links top-level business unit metrics down through the shop floor." (33) This supports the firm in communicating and integrating strategy at all levels in the organization as a continual process. Therefore, through involvement in the design stage, management accountants can support the firm on key BSC implementation issues such as communicating and educating the organization on the BSC and linking incentive compensation to the scorecard.
Another benefit of the model is that it can address some of the criticisms that have emerged from empirical research in the area. Robert Lipe and Frank Salterio find that "measures common to multiple business units" were used in evaluating the performance of business units, whereas measures "unique to a particular unit" were not given significant attention in the evaluation. (34) The REA framework ensures that measures from the BSC strategic model are incorporated into the database and result in a common system of measures for all business units in the organization. If, however, individual units were involved in the development of the BSC and integration into the information system, it is also more likely that unique measures would be used, thereby limiting the value of the BSC for evaluation purposes.
Finally, the REA model gives management accountants an opportunity to become partners with senior management in developing and implementing strategy. An important avenue is by adding value to information through the design and development of the database. Traditional tools for systems development, such as the chart of accounts, are inadequate for adding value to information. Furthermore, the REA model provides management accountants with an opportunity to become intrinsically involved in the design phase of systems development, which should enable them to support the strategy of the organization. We feel it would help management accountants add value to their companies if they understand the potential of the REA framework.
(1) Peter Drucker, "Be Data Literate--Know What to Know," The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 1992, p. 14.
(2) William E. McCarthy, "An Entity View of Accounting Models," The Accounting Review, October 1979, pp. 667-686; and William E. McCarthy, "The REA Accounting Model: A Generalized Framework for Accounting Systems in a Shared Data Environment," The Accounting Review, July 1982, pp. 554-578.
(3) Carlo Batini, Stefano Ceri, and Shamkant B. Navathe, Conceptual Database Design, The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., Redwood City, Calif., 1992, pp. 15-76.
(4) Drucker, 1992.
(6) Michael Alles, Alexander Kogan, and K. Vasarhelyi, "Accounting in 2015," The CPA Journal, November 2000, pp. 14-20.
(7) Ibid., p. 20.
(8) Kenton B. Walker and Eric L. Denna, "A New Accounting System Is Emerging," Management Accounting, July 1997, pp. 22-30.
(9) Michael Porter, Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance, Simon & Schuster, New York, N.Y., 1985.
(11) Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, "Using the Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic Management System," Harvard Business Review, January/February 1996, pp. 75-85.
(12) Mary A. Malina and Frank H. Selto, "Communicating and Controlling Strategy: An Empirical Study of the Effectiveness of the Balanced Scorecard," Journal of Management Accounting Research, 2001 (Volume 13), pp. 47-90.
(13) Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, "The Balanced Scorecard--Measures That Drive Performance," Harvard Business Review, January/February 1992, pp. 71-79.
(14) Andy J. Neely, John Mills, Ken Platts, Huw Richards, and Mike Gregory, "Performance Measurement System Design: Developing and Testing a Process-Based Approach," International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 2000 (Volume 20, Issue 10), pp. 1119-1145.
(15) Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, "Putting the Balanced Scorecard to Work," Harvard Business Review, September/ October 1993, pp. 134-147.
(17) Christopher Ittner and David F. Larcker, "Are Nonfinancial Measures Leading Indicators of Financial Performance?: An Analysis of Customer Satisfaction," Journal of Accounting Research, 1998 (Volume 36), pp. 1-35.
(18) Rajiv D. Banker, G. Potter, and Dhinu Srinivasan, "An Empirical Investigation of an Incentive Plan that Includes Nonfinancial Performance Measures," The Accounting Review, January 2000, pp. 65-92.
(19) Venky Nagar and Madhav V. Rajan, "The Revenue Implications of Financial and Operational Measures of Product Quality," The Accounting Review, October 2001, pp. 495-513.
(22) Malina and Selto, 2001, pp. 47-90.
(21) Christopher Ittner, David F. Larcker, and M. W. Meyer, "Subjectivity and the Weighting of Performance Measures: Evidence from a Balanced Scorecard," The Accounting Review, February 2003, pp. 725-758.
(22) Marlys G. Lipe and Stephen E. Salterio, "The Balanced Scorecard: Judgmental Effects of Common and Unique Performance Measures," The Accounting Review, July 2000, pp. 283-298.
(23) Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, The Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment, Harvard University Press, Boston, Mass., 2001, pp. 7-16.
(24) Lipe and Salterio, 2000, pp. 283-298.
(25) Kaplan and Norton, 1993, pp. 138-139.
(26) Batini et al., 1992, p. 33. Extensional information consists of structured properties of data that describe or give meaning to it.
(27) A conceptual schema is a high-level description of the structure of the database, independent of the particular database management systems software that will be used to implement the database.
(28) Batini et al., 1992, p. 11.
(29) Ibid, p. 15-76.
(30) Kaplan and Norton, 1993.
(31) Kaplan and Norton, 2001. Several examples are provided; for example, see pp. 17-26.
(32) Kaplan and Norton, 1993, pp. 138-139.
(34) Lipe and Salterio, 2000, p. 283.
George Joseph, Ph.D., ACA, is an assistant professor of accounting at Savannah State University in Savannah, Ga. He can be reached at (912) 356-2844 or email@example.com. After July 2005, he will be an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Mass. He can be reached then at (912) 398-3952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asha George is an instructor of information systems at Savannah State University. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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|Author:||Joseph, George; George, Asha|
|Publication:||Management Accounting Quarterly|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
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