Developing apps is easier starting from XML

XBRL application development shouldn’t be too hard, at least at the level most corporate IT shops will do it. They will adopt and extend a ready-made taxonomy, which is the hard part. Taxonomies will be provided by organizations such as XBRL International. The U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles taxonomy available today may be sufficient for most companies.

When you come down to it, “XBRL is XML,” says Hugh Wallis, an independent consultant working for XBRL International. Developers and IT staff who are familiar with XML can pretty quickly orient themselves to working with XBRL.

The biggest wrinkle will likely involve the use of XLinks. XLinks are used to provide more semantic detail for the elements of an XBRL taxonomy. An XLink specifies an explicit relationship between resources or portions of resources, according to the W3C. The organization defines six XLink elements, only two of which actually are considered linking elements. The others describe the characteristics of a link.

When we started working with XBRL, I was just using Notepad,” says Mark Montoya, systems analyst and XBRL specialist at the FDIC. That didn’t last long; he quickly moved on to other tools specifically intended for use in XBRL development, such as those from UBmatrix.

A handful of vendors offer XBRL tools. For example, Microsoft has inserted XBRL capabilities in several of its products, and also markets a version of EDGAR Online’s I-Metrix Architect called Office Solution Accelerator for XBRL. In addition, UBmatrix’s Automator XBRL Professional Studio is a Windows desktop application for creating and deploying XBRL-enabled business reporting structures and reporting documents. It can be used to create, exchange and validate complex taxonomies and extensions. UBmatrix also offers a server-based application for importing, converting and validating data into XBRL, the Universal Converter. It has other tools to enable Web applications and third-party software for XBRL.

Rivet Software offers Dragon Tag, a Windows Office-based tool that simplifies XBRL tagging via Word or Excel. Dragon Tag supports the latest XBRL Specification (2.1) and XBRL taxonomies such as U.S. GAAP and International Financial Reporting Standards. Through drag-and-drop capabilities, users can connect existing financial data to XBRL tags. The tool’s review and validation features ensure accuracy prior to submitting or releasing XBRL documents, explains Rob Blake, Rivet, VP, marketing. The tool automatically generates the final XBRL-compliant document.

Hitachi and Fujitsu also offer technologies that address aspects of the XBRL challenge. More products are expected. “This is immature technology. It is still very early in the process,” says Robert Kugel, VP and research director at Ventana Research.

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About the Author

Alan Radding is a freelance technology writer in Newton, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected].