Someone made me aware of something which I thought I would share because I think that it helps people trying to understand XBRL.
The National Information Exchange Model(NIEM) is an information exchange standard. The motivation for NIEM is articulated as the following in this document which provides an introduction to NIEM:
The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) is designed to develop, disseminate, and support enterprise]wide information sharing standards and processes across the whole of the justice, public safety, emergency and disaster management, intelligence, and homeland security enterprise at all levels and across all branches of government.
That introduction document makes the case for common information exchange standards (canonical standards) as opposed to point-to-point information exchange standards. They have a nice little graphic on page 19 of the document (figure 5) which compares point-to-point information exchanges with canonical standard exchanges which looks virtually identical to a graphic I put into my book Financial Reporting Using XBRL (section 4.2, page 44). Basically, NIEM makes the same case as XBRL: standards are good.
Something else that NIEM realizes and says is this (page 5, the bold emphasis is mine):
Some sources of data components include data models, databases, data dictionaries, schemas, and exchanges. In NIEM, these objects and constructs are represented using XML Schema for the purpose of consistent definition and transmission of information exchange packages (IEPs). The model, however, is independent of any particular technology and in the future could be depicted in any number of representations (e.g., Resource Definition Framework (RDF) or Web Ontology Language (OWL)), which would produce semantically consistent interoperable information sharing. It is anticipated that future versions may migrate to new and evolving forms.
The model is independent of the technology (i.e. the syntax). Another way of saying this is that semantics is more important than syntax. If you get the semantics right, you can always convert from one syntax to another. Because different business systems have different data formats (i.e. syntax), there will always be a need to convert into a variety of syntaxes. But the information exchange will not be possible if you don't understand the semantics (i.e. meaning) of what you are receiving.
Reading the introduction to NIEM document which is quite well done can help you understand what XBRL enables.
Canonical formats such as NIEM, XBRL, other forms of XML, RDF/OWL, and others will change how we do things and what we can do, opening new possibilities.