XBRL - the eXtensible Business Reporting Language - is a framework,
based on XML, for creating applications reporting business data.
These applications, specified as "taxonomies", include schemas as well
as subsiduary information in so called linkbases,
e.g. labels for human consumption, and
references to books where the data items are defined.
The aim is to make business data easily available for interchange
Currently a lot of the data has to be re-keyed in order to be
accessible as it is submitted as PDF files, office documents, or ...
Numerous regulators, such as the SEC in the US, are starting to
require the submission of reports using XBRL.
Given the current economic situation leading to demands for more
regulatory information to be made available coupled with the importance
of analysis of the data in a timely manner this trend will quickly
Thus any company is likely to be needing to create reports using
XBRL in the near future.
How to Generate XBRL
On the longer term one can expect accounting packages to support
the mapping of data to XBRL format. One can also expect mappings
to be provided for common taxonomies together with the ability to
create custom additions for the mapping of company specific data.
In the meantime, however, other approaches to create XBRL need
to be used.
Template Excel Spreadsheet
A number of vendors are proposing solutions based on Microsoft
Excel spreadsheets. A template spreadsheet containing fixed
information, such as the XML element names from the taxonomy
of the information
to be provided, is manually filled in with the information to be
reported. The information in the spreadsheet is then extracted and
converted to XBRL format.
An example is shown below:
A promising approach is to use XForms (a World Wide Web Consortium
standard) to capture the information to be reported.
The form itself is generated from the information in the taxonomy
with labels for the input fields taken from the "label linkbase".
Once the form has been filled in an XSLT transformation is run
to convert the information into compliant XBRL.
An example form based on the taxonomy of the Swedish Company House
is shown below using a free XForms plug-in available for
the FireFox browser:
The top of the form contains general information.
It is followed by a series of tabs reflecting the subdivision
in the taxonomy of
the information to be gathered.
It is quite common that information that needs to be reported to
a regulator is "sprinkled" throughout a document created using
Microsoft Word. One such example is a company's annual report.
Using techniques first explored in the 1980s, where SGML was the target,
one can extract and convert selected information into XBRL reported
items based on style-names and fixed text in tables. It does, however,
require care when creating the Word document.