What is a Service Department?

Service Department

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Service Department

A Service Department, in the context of managerial accounting and business operations, refers to a department within an organization that doesn’t directly produce goods or services to be sold to external customers. Instead, it provides support or auxiliary services that enable other departments (typically called “production” or “operating” departments) to produce the main products or services efficiently.

Service departments play a crucial role in ensuring that the primary functions of the business run smoothly.

Examples of Service Departments include:

  • Human Resources (HR): Manages recruitment, training, benefits administration, employee relations, and other personnel-related tasks.
  • Information Technology (IT): Provides technology infrastructure, maintenance, and support services.
  • Maintenance: Responsible for maintaining and repairing equipment, facilities, and other assets.
  • Accounting and Finance: Manages the company’s finances, budgets, payrolls, and financial reporting.
  • Security: Ensures the safety of the organization’s assets, personnel, and information.
  • Administrative Services: Includes general office management, clerical support, and other day-to-day administrative tasks.
  • Research and Development (R&D): While they might not directly produce the main product or service sold, they conduct essential research and development activities that fuel future products or improvements.

In managerial accounting, the costs of running these service departments are allocated to the production departments. The idea is to distribute the indirect costs, which the service departments represent, to the departments directly responsible for producing the goods or services. This allocation helps in accurate product costing and ensures that all overhead costs are accounted for in the final product or service pricing. Different methods, such as the direct method, step-down method, or reciprocal method, can be used for this cost allocation.

Example of a Service Department

Let’s delve into an example involving the allocation of Service Department costs to Production Departments within a manufacturing company.

Company: AutoMaster, a company that manufactures automobiles.

Service Departments:

  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Maintenance

Production Departments:

  • Assembly
  • Finishing


  • HR has a total cost of $500,000, including salaries, recruitment, training, and other related expenses.
  • Maintenance has a total cost of $300,000, covering equipment repairs, facility upkeep, etc.
  • Assembly uses 60% of the HR services due to a larger number of employees and frequent hiring and training activities.
  • Finishing uses 40% of the HR services.
  • Assembly utilizes 70% of the Maintenance department’s services since the machines used in assembly require frequent maintenance.
  • Finishing takes up the remaining 30% of Maintenance services because its machines are newer and need less frequent servicing.

Cost Allocation:

  • For HR Costs:
    • Assembly: 60% of $500,000 = $300,000
    • Finishing: 40% of $500,000 = $200,000
  • For Maintenance Costs:
    • Assembly: 70% of $300,000 = $210,000
    • Finishing: 30% of $300,000 = $90,000

Total Allocated Costs:

  • Assembly = $300,000 (HR) + $210,000 (Maintenance) = $510,000
  • Finishing = $200,000 (HR) + $90,000 (Maintenance) = $290,000

So, AutoMaster would allocate $510,000 of its Service Department costs to the Assembly department and $290,000 to the Finishing department. These costs would then be included when determining the total cost of production for each department.

This example simplifies the process, and in real-world scenarios, the allocation can be more complex, especially with multiple service departments and intricate inter-departmental relationships. The key takeaway is that service department costs are systematically allocated to reflect the true cost of producing a product or service.

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