The U.S. Securities Commission (SEC) has a pilot project underway to "put technology to work" for investors by using "interactive data" (eXtensible Business Reporting Language), using metadata for financial reporting. Early this fall, the proposed taxnonomies are expected to be available for comment. If mandated by the SEC, the use of XBRL will update the SEC's Edgar system that has provided electronic access to filings made with the SEC. * XBRL is an extension of XML (extensible markup language), consisting of tags that describe data that can be read by different software applications. XBRL extends XBR to meet the requirements of financial reporting.

  • Now, an Interactive Financial Report Viewer is available for "test drives" from the SEC. (Because a limited number of companies are involved in the pilot program, you might want to compare IBM and Xerox, two of companies involved in the pilot.

  • Similar efforts are taking place around the globe, and using XBRL is already required by the Shanghai Stock Exchange, for example.

  • The nonprofit organization, XBRL International, recently held its 15th annual conference in Munich, drawing people from around the globe. New software products were announced at this conference.

  • What are advantages of using XBRL?

>With standardized taxonomies, investors and analysts of all types--individual investors, and Wall Street analysts will information available faster and also likely more accurate information.
(Some research has found error rates of about 30% occur in rekeying data.) In a global economy, this will help companies stay competitive.

>With less time needed to retrieve information, more time may be spent on analysis. So more companies around the world may find analysts interested in covering them, which would help small publicly-traded firms.

  • One librarian noted that she has difficulty in understanding the performance of a mutual fund she has invested in. Another interactive voluntary program of the SEC includes mutual fund information. Starting August 20, volunteers can begin submit tagged ris/return summary information. An expected advantage of XBRL for individual investors is the ability to "see the numbers" easily.

  • Why should librarians/information professionals be interested in XBRL? Whether a "business librarian" or not, many people use financial filings for investment and other reasons. While accountants and others may know something about efforts for XBRL, such efforts are not widely known by the public, so there are many opportunities for librarians to show some leadership, and XBRL also offers opportunities to expand our skills into analysis.

  • For those in the academic environment, helping students learn about XBRL will be needed in the future. Public librarians will also need to know about the use of XBRL.

  • For those helping researchers, some questions arise on what will happen to prior filings--will retrospective work be done so comparisons can be made going back in time..before XBRL? Since vendors keep propietary information confidential, it is difficult to know now what they are planning.

  • One person attending this discussion is currently attending library/information studies school and will take business reference this fall. She said she thought XBRL would be a good topic for a paper. I think it would be too--it's always good to be investigating something new.