See you in Munich!

Speaking of Germany, I’ll be back there in a couple of weeks… will you? Have you registered for the 15th XBRL International Conference? I’m involved in the External Reporting track running over Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday (5-6 June). Lots of good speakers, a great panel session and real focus on the challenges and opportunities created for today’s external reporting professionals. Hope to see you there.

Oh yes — and some very cool stuff from CoreFiling.

Disclosure… auf Deutsche

I was on a panel session at DIRK (the German Investor Relations Society) in Frankfurt yesterday. We were talking about ways and means for German companies to attract international investors, debating a set of thoughtful, and not entirely uncontroversial theses developed by Ralf Frank, the MD at DVFA.

Stefan Jekel, from NYSE, had a great analogy. He made the point that better reporting leads to better liquidity and greater market capitalisation, and had the academic research to prove it. But you don’t actually need all the equations. Stefan points out that to see "information asymmetry" at work, just head on down to your local used car lot. The more information, and more certainty you have about a car, the more you are likely to pay. Simple, but true. Millions of people prove that on Ebay everyday. The auctions that boast context, features, history and explanations do better, for otherwise identical items, than those with the bare necessities.

A good question posed after the session: "If XBRL can help analysts build faster, better and deeper models, and regulators can use it to drive convergence projects that bring accounting rules closer together, why isn’t everyone using it already?". My answer was three-fold: Education, Education and Education. The "enlightened self-interest" required of companies and account preparers to go to the (fairly small, in real terms) effort of publishing XBRL versions of their accounts is logical, but needs people to think at least one step beyond their own outbox.

True, it’s the analysts, bankers, regulators and counter-parties that are the initial beneficiaries of XBRL formatted disclosures, but (a) preparers don’t just produce accounts for publication because the law says they have to, they also produce them in order to gain access to capital; and (b) corporates that have started to think about XBRL in terms of improving the internal reporting and consolidation process quickly understand that the same issues exist outside their own organisational walls.

An interesting day. Thanks to Susanne Minneker and DIRK for bringing the panel together.

MicroXBRL anyone?

You might be interested in looking at, or contributing to, our MicroXBRL wiki.

There have been discussions about rendering around the XBRL consortium for many years and now, inside the consortium, there is an effort to capture them. The problem, from our perspective, is that accountants and report preparers need to be able to make their reports look exactly the way *they* want them to. Providing an XBRL data file together with a file containing a range of rendering metadata isn’t terribly attractive either to the preparer, or to the software vendors that have to support them. So instead, drawing on the ideas of the folk over at Microformats.org as well as the SVG
group (including Jonathan Watt) we are experimenting with a much more direct approach. Publishing XHTML files that render the report the way the user wants, and embedding XBRL tags right inside those files. It’s simple. It meets the major user requirements. It can probably be extended to allow fancier requirements to be met as well. Your input is welcome!

IR gig

I’ve been drafted into what looks like an interesting panel session at the 2007 Investor Relations Society annual conference in London. Come along – it sounds like fun.

Analysis for Fun and Profit

On Tuesday, Chairman Cox announced an early release of some open source
software that allows you to analyse information that has been filed with the
SEC in XBRL format. It’s a web based demonstration environment, available here.

So, this is an interesting start. It’s a hint at some of the power that is
available when analysing XBRL information. It highlights some of the things
that still need to be done to improve the framework for filing XBRL with the
Commission (or indeed, any regulator). I think it also provides a bit of a
wake-up call to the consortium about the so-called "rendering"
problem.

Some of the obvious issues include:

  • Requiring meaningful labels for logical groupings of concepts. In the XBRL
    specification we call these "extended link roles". At CoreFiling we
    call them "Groups" because the other name is not very helpful.

  • Enforcing a single entity identifier.

  • Determining and enforcing a single versioning/taxonomy life cycle strategy so
    that it’s easy to construct a time series across multiple filings by the same
    company.

  • Imposing an “order” constraint on disclosure segments and contexts, and equally
    important, imposing a consistent framework for segment identifiers, for
    individual filers, across time.

Marc van Hilvoorde is leading a working group that is coming to grips with some
of the issues to do with rendering. Rendering is a really tricky area. At one
level, accountants that prepare financial disclosures need them to look exactly
"so". Developing a specification that can provide really precise
rendering descriptions could take quite some time be impossible. Those
consuming the data, on the other hand, are really just looking for a broad
brush approach, that will help set out tables and headings etc., so that the data can be easily conveyed to the user. It is this latter area that Marc’s
group is going to be thinking about.

I gather that that there will be another, independently developed analysis
tool, that will also be open source, that the Commission’s contractors are
still working on. Cool! Bring it on. Oh! One other point. I believe the data in
this current trial is being batched up overnight. Fair enough, it is early
days. One reason for that is that the SEC’s RSS feed is only updated every
night. What about sorting that out, guys? Once it’s been filed, it should be
available… shouldn’t it?

Welcome, Mark Bolgiano

A very welcome face at the conference was Mark Bolgiano, the new XBRL-US
Executive Director. In the unlikely event that we didn’t scare him away with
the proverbial information fire hose, he will be starting on 11 December. Seems
like a very capable guy coming into the middle of the XBRL-US group at a
crucial time.

SpiderMonkey… unveiled

So, lots of people have been wondering about what we have been up to over the last few months. It’s true. We’ve been pre-occupied. But now we are beginning to take the wraps off. SpiderMonkey! It’s here!

Based on Eclipse, SpiderMonkey offers a phenomenal new experience for taxonomy builders everywhere. It provides a user interface that offers all the power of XBRL, but in a user-friendly way. SpiderMonkey is based on True North, so you can be completely confident about the output. As one of our early testers says "The UI reflects a complete understanding of the XBRL spec – not some approximation to it". But that’s what you expected from us.

Now in Beta… (the program is pretty full up, but if you can convince me that you’ll really work it, you know what you are talking about, and will file bugs and enhancement requests, we might squeeze you in). In general, you can Sign Up to get it on general release.

PS: Did you hear us say "three way merge"??? Yup. It does that too!

Thank-you Kurt

This week marks the last few days of Kurt Ramin’s role as chairman of XBRL International. An awful lot has happened over the last couple of years. Thank-you Kurt for all of the effort that you have put in, especially in relation to the development of the IFRS taxonomies and the explosion of interest in the standard across a phenomenal number of countries. Very much helped along by your dedication – not to mention a truly ludicrous travel schedule. But don’t go away… there might be some truth to the suggestion that we all want you to keep on biking flying.

Welcome, Michael Ohata, to the helm. I’m looking forward to the next year or two: I’m sure it will be tremendous.

Wanna grok XBRL?

I’ve got my XBRL consortium hat firmly on here.

I know we are starting to get the attention of the technical community when W3C folk like Dan Connolly start posting del.icio.us comments like this one:

XBRL specifications

nice use of URIs… their schemas resolve, they have good persistence policies in their schemas. nice looking test suites. Looks like quality work. Hmm… their use of taxonomies goes beyond XML Schema and uses XLink; I wonder if it maps nicely to RDF/OWL

Thanks Dan! There will be a lot of people that have worked really hard over a number of years glad to hear you say it. And these posts here and here from Tim Bray, really help the cause.

But like Tim says, XBRL is not exactly the simplest thing to get your hands around. We set out to capture the semantics of business reporting. Not a subset of it, and that means that 80/20 has never really worked for us. We didn’t think that investors or corporations would be very grateful if we had said “XBRL lets you instantly, accurately and unambiguously define and disseminate some of what you want to disclose to the market.” So the specification turned out to be a bit bigger than anyone would really have liked.

Furthermore, real users working in real projects, from Korea to Spain, to the UK, Canada and the US want more! Like versioning, formula, functions and (gulp) rendering. So, in April the International Steering Committee announced the creation of the XBRL Standards Board, charged with improving the quality, consistency and stability of XBRL International IP. XBRL’s technical product has always had some formal guidelines to help things along, but now that the standard is in such extensive use, it’s far more important that we consult at each step, take account of what the market has developed independently and really focus on how easy the work is to implement.

So right now, inside the consortium’s mailing lists, we are consulting on a technical roadmap, a brand new, shiny set of policies and procedures (modelled on what we thought were the best bits of OASIS and W3C practices) and are calling for participation in a number of brand new working groups.

Not a member? Join! It doesn’t matter where you are, your contribution can make a difference.

Work at one of the 480 organisations that are already members and want to get stuck in? Great!

Either way, sign-up for one or more of the Working Groups. There is no better way to really understand a standard than to be part of its development (even if you are just lurking in the background). While the XBRL 2.1 specification is stable, these new work products (like formula, functions and versioning) are all new (optional but very useful) modules to XBRL. You can get involved from the ground up. And learn about the base specification while you go along. See you soon in a working group conference call! Or come along to Philly!