Stevens Conference Keynote: XBRL More Than Numbers

Walter Hamscher gave an important message to the conference – XBRL was designed to support more than just numbers. The text block tagging of SEC filings clearly shows this, but only scratches the surface. To look deeper, let’s break out the consultant’s favorite tool, the quadrant chart!

XBRL 4 boxAs we can see in the graphic above, the financial numbers are really only one possible market segment where XBRL can be used successfully. In fact, using XBRL across several of these segments at the same time is XBRL’s ‘force multiplier’. As a broadly applicable tool, XBRL taxonomies and instance documents can capture multiple kinds of knowledge and allow them to be integrated for query and analysis.

The use of XBRL for SEC 10-K and 10-Q filings has already delivered something previously unavailable – text tagged by specific use. Previously, you could do full text searching on the entire text of the filing, but you couldn’t search within a single accounting footnote.

With the XBRL data, it is very easy to pull individual footnotes across multiple filings to compare companies, or look for changes in one company over time.

But even that chart doesn’t do justice to XBRL’s breadth of applicability. I would have to add corporate action dissemination in the upper right, journal entries, in the upper left, and the implementation of Simplified Business Reporting in practically every box.

There are huge opportunities to use XBRL across multiple new areas, applying proven, commercial products and services to new problems. The first wave of large, regulatory implementations has already seen the cost of these products and services drop, and the number of XBRL trained staff rise. This should lead to much lower implementation costs, which is a good thing (for everyone except consultants with quadrant charts).

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