Saturday, 14 December 2013

What XBRL is not

One way to understand what something is, to first understand what it is not. Allow me to list ten things that XBRL is not, hopefully making it self-evident as to what XBRL is.

1. XBRL is not a piece of software

Though XBRL is not software, you will need software to create XBRL documents, you will also need software to read XBRL documents. The software to create XBRL documents is what is referred to as publishing software; our proprietary publishing software is called Proton. To read XBRL documents one would need a rendering tool.

2. XBRL is not a new accounting concept

XBRL is an information standard, it is not a new accounting concept. It merely is a new way to report the same information in a richer, more meaningful way. It works with existing accounting concepts.

3. XBRL is not expensive

In India, XBRL implementation will cost a fraction of the US $ 100000 (Rs 45 lakh) that listed companies in the USA spend on one year’s filings to the SEC in XBRL. I must hasten to add that the cost to listed companies will be more than what it costs unlisted companies. To a listed company, a single user licence of the publishing software may cost in the range of Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 4 lakh depending on who they buy from. The alternative they have is to outsource the conversion to a firm like us and choose to defer the software purchase to next year.

4. XBRL is not difficult to learn

As the saying goes, XBRL is not rocket science and even rocket science can be learned. It is all just a matter of time. In companies like IRIS, fresh recruits have to go through 3 months of training in acquiring domain knowledge combined with practical hands on experience using tools like Proton which has been developed by us at IRIS. I must caution that a 1 or 2 day training will be woefully inadequate.

5. XBRL is not just about financial reporting & compliance

While it is true that the first move towards XBRL has been taken by regulators to improve compliance, it would be a shame to stop there. Indeed, every company can use XBRL internally to improve MIS, to improve decision making. It won’t be long before firms can submit loan documents to banks in XBRL. Indeed wherever information is exchanged, XBRL can be used. From cricket scores to government expenditure tracking, from health records to trade documents, XBRL is finding application everywhere.

6. XBRL is not owned by anybody

This is the single most important reason why XBRL is taking off. It is open source, it is royalty free. Nobody owns the XBRL standard; it has evolved through collaboration between accountants and technologists.

7. XBRL is not just about external reporting

Many mature companies have begun to reap benefits of internal consolidation using XBRL. Yet others have found merit in an integrated XBRL IFRS strategy. The potential benefits of XBRL for internal MIS are huge.

8. XBRL is not going to increase compliance burden

Over at Reserve Bank of India, even with the baby steps they have taken on XBRL, they have reduced the number of forms to be submitted by banks by one fourth. Similar will be the experience once the MCA roll out is through and other agencies start working closely with the MCA. Indeed, moving to XBRL will greatly reduce the compliance burden for the filers. One word of caution though: the burden may be higher in the first year due to transition issues but it will be smooth sailing thereafter.

9. XBRL is not a problem to be dumped on IT

In many companies, the IT department is being roped in for XBRL related decisions. This may not be the right approach. In fact with an effective XBRL implementation, the role of IT will get greatly reduced, the power will move to the users of information. Hence the right people to take charge would be the Finance & Accounts Department and Planning & Strategy, not IT.

10. XBRL is not something to fear

One has read reports about how with XBRL even the smallest mistakes will be highlighted. On the contrary with XBRL, mistakes will not happen as the filings will get pre validated. The approach should be to not become a slave but to master it.

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