My 5/17/09 Missoulian column
Markup languages provide structure to data and information, and those “under the hood” concepts of extensible markup language have branched out into other “markup” languages, and XBRL – extensible business reporting language – is one of them.
Like XML, XBRL allows access to business and financial data in the same format across many different platforms and languages. XML marks up MP3 playlists, census numbers and medical records, and allows that data to be exchanged and read by other computers and languages. XBRL marks up the business data that represents profits and losses, stock offerings and sales, balance sheets and business assets.
Again, like XML, XBRL allows business-oriented documents to stay connected to information. The appearance of a document won’t necessarily change, but the data can be linked to the most up to date version of what’s available, no matter what process the document goes through. At the office user level, a document can go through many different departments in a company and stay linked with the data that need to be current.
XBRL is also important these days because it allows regulators and government agencies to acquire business data more easily and provide it to other agencies and the public.
If you’re involved with XBRL in any fashion right now, it’s crunch time. Last January, the Security and Exchange Commission set a June 15 deadline for public companies with more than $5 billion in public shares to supply their business data in XBRL format as well as old-fashioned hard copy. According to Computerworld, the SEC’s mandate of public company reporting in XBRL will be completely phased in over two years.
In the big picture, XBRL goes even further. In The Wall Street Journal, L. Gordon Crovitz writes that the kind of data exchange that XBRL represents is exactly what the “founder” of the World Wide Web and hypertext, Tim Berners-Lee, envisioned.
“Mr. Berners-Lee now advocates what he calls ‘linked data’ to go beyond today’s hypertext and make readily accessible digital information stored in any format from any source. … His new approach could revolutionize financial markets, which are in dire need of better access to information.”
Will XBRL offer more transparency in the business and regulatory world, in this current economic downturn arguably caused by lack of transparency? XBRL will make financial information much more available, but it’s still up to the people using the technology to make a difference.