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February 25, 2010

Consultation opens on the future of XBRL

XBRL International is seeking input on the future development of the XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) standard.

A discussion paper, XBRL: Towards a Diverse Ecosystem, is the first step towards developing a formal strategy to expand on the existing product.Who creates XBRL tags?

The XBRL standard is developed by the XBRL Standards Board (XSB), part of XBRL International, which is a non-profit consortium of about 450 major companies, organisations and government agencies. It is an open standard, free of licence fees.

XSB chair John Turner likens the XBRL standard to a language. It includes rules of grammar and rules about how things can be expressed.

National and international bodies. such as accounting standard setters, regulators, stock exchanges, government bodies and companies, can take the standard and apply it to a particular reporting domain.

“They use the language to construct some words that they put in a dictionary,” Turner explained. “Those dictionaries, which are taxonomies and are owned and governed by whoever created them, allow the reporting of information in conformance with that dictionary.”

Turner said comparing different XBRL taxonomies, such as the US GAAP taxonomy and the IFRS taxonomy, is like comparing two dictionaries that use the same language.

Widespread use

XBRL is currently used in about 30 countries, and there are more than 100 other projects where organisations are looking to bring it on board. One example is in the UK, where XBRL tagging will be required for tax purposes from 2011.

Turner said there are already several million companies using XBRL to provide information to their regulator or to markets, and this will increase rapidly as projects such as the UK one take effect.

With IFRS implementation well under way, the XSB now plans to develop a road map that will outline technical goals for the next 5 to 10 years.

“The XBRL language as a whole has succeeded in an extraordinary way around the world and is being used in all kinds of places. Now we have to think about what are the next steps and how can we make this easier to use and more powerful,” Turner explained.

The XSB has proposed to focus on three areas:

• Ease of use for developers;

• Enabling information comparability around the world; and,

• Simplifying the use of XBRL data for analysis systems.

Turner said developers who work with databases can find moving to XBRL “a leap”. Therefore, the XSB is proposing to look for ways to make the standard more accessible for them.

Enabling comparability and simplifying the use of the data go hand-in-hand.

The XSB considers the information comparability question to be a problem with financial reports in general, not XBRL per se, but they still think it should be addressed.

“XBRL suffers from [the comparability] problem today just as general paper-based reporting suffers from it,” Turner said.

“So we are looking at what we can do to bridge those silos and provide fundamental building blocks that everyone can use to help with their own comparisons and accelerate that process.”

The deadline to submit comments is 19 March.

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