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XBRL for Non-financial Information

Many people I talk to are surprised when I tell them that XBRL is not just for financial information, that it can be used for other business information, any information in fact. While there are pros and cons to using XBRL and it is not right for everything, its utility goes beyond financial reporting.

I talked about XBRL's sweet spot in another blog post, I will summarize that sweet spot here:

  • Larger transactions which tend to change (i.e. such as a 50 or 100 page regulatory report with perhaps thousands of facts exchanged, as opposed to a small transaction with 10 data points)
  • Zero tolerance for errors in the information (i.e. everything must tick and tie and if things don't add up, bad things happen)
  • Information which needs to be reconfigured(i.e. not a form, although XBRL can be used to expressed what amounts to a form, it excels when that "form" needs some flexibility)
  • Business people changing the metadata, no IT involvement required (i.e. XBRL has a good balance between power and ease of use)

No why are the examples I createmostly related to financial reporting? Well, a couple of reasons. First, I am a CPA so that is my domain of expertise. Second, I am a CPA and I want to help the financial reporting domain figure out XBRL in order to use it effectively within that domain. Third, it does have a lot of uptake in terms of using XBRL.

I do create non-financial reporting examples.  See the "State Fact Book Prototype" which I created.  Also, this may seem strange but have a look at it. Here is a non-financial reporting example.  Visualize this by looking at the PDF.  I am using placeholder text use for prototyping marketing information for the concepts expressed in the XBRL taxonomy and reported in the XBRL instance.  It still works.  No debits or credits, no balance sheets or income statements, not financial reporting related.

When you look at the business use cases forget about the specifics of what you see in the use cases. Just like mathematics is used in accounting and engineering and physics and medicine and whatever domain; those patterns of what I am expressing goes beyond financial reporting. Look at the examples in more general terms.  I thought about creating 100 non-financial reporting uses for XBRL, which I still may do one day.  For now, I am focused on financial reporting and figuring out how to best use XBRL in that environment.

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