The CEO and CFO of a reporting entity needs to be able to look at an SEC XBRL financial report for them to be able to sign off on that report. Clearly they look at the "paper" or HTML versions of these financial reports which get filed with the SEC. There are even signatures on those reports that attest to this fact. Or saying this another way, why would a CEO or CFO not need to be able to review these SEC XBRL financial reports if they wanted to?
So, what; we just give the CEO and CFO the same software that accountants who create these reports use to review and verify what they have created. That should work. Or maybe we give them the software used by the third party accountants who do verification work to be sure the report is created correctly.
Why not? Well, that verification software used by accountants and third party accountants is a bit too hard to use perhaps. So, make it easier to use. And if you can make it easier to use so that the CEO and CFO can use it, why can't it be made easier for the accountants and third party accountants?
Let's throw in the investors and analysts who use this information; why would a lot of the information that they see be different than the information used by the CEO, CFO, accountant or third party accountant reviewing the financial report. What about the lawyers involved in the process of getting that SEC financial filing out.
What, specifically, is so hard to use about verification software or other software used to look at the information contained in these SEC XBRL financial reports? Take the SEC interactive data viewer. What is so hard about using that? Actually, the SEC interactive data viewer, while it leaves a lot to be desired, provides some very good clues as to what the CEO, CFO, accountants, third party accountants, investors, analysts, lawyers, and others might need. Here is a link to an Apple 10-Q as viewed within the SEC XBRL interactive data viewer which you can use to help you think about this.
It seems to me that this is some of the stuff that any one of those business users would need to see would include: all components, all facts within a component, all characteristics of a fact, all the properties of each characteristic, all the relations between characteristics and facts (such as computations of roll ups, roll forwards, etc). These are all the semantic objects, properties of those objects, and relations between objects within the financial report.
Let me walk you through what I am talking about.
First off, business users need to see all relevant information about reported facts within a financial report. Clearly all the components of the report are relevant, you can see all those on the left hand side within the Apple 10-Q as viewed by that SEC interactive data viewer.
Select one of the components, let's try the "Condensed Consolidated Statement of Operations".
If you click on that component, you see Apple's statement of operations. You can even "click" on a line items of that component and see information about characteristic of the fact you are looking at. Can you see all the information about that line item concept characteristic? No; you cannot see the references to the accounting literature for that concept, clearly that might be nice.
But what about the other information about a reported fact. Click on the fact. Well, the SEC previewer does not let you do that (rather you can click all you want, the viewer just won't do anything). But what if it did? What if you could click on any fact and see all of the relevant characteristics of that fact? That would be nice. Remember that component you clicked on to get to this page? It would be nice to see the properties of that component also, all of them.
What about the characteristics which exist but you cannot see in the SEC viewer because the viewer simply does not show them? If you look in the columns, you see the SEC viewer shows two column: for the current quarter and the same quarter for the prior year. You cannot click on the period and get any information. But what if you could?
There are other characteristics which are not shown. You don't see that both the current period and prior period columns both relate to the legal entity "consolidated group". You can see the CIK number which identifies the reporting entity. Both of those are characteristics of each fact in the condensed consolidated statement of operations. But what if you could click on any fact and get all the information about every characteristics of that or click on every characteristic and get the properties of that characteristic.
Basically, as I see it what makes software hard to use these days for CEOs, CFOs, accountants, third party accountants, analysts, investors, lawyers, and other business users is poor software design. Today's software does not show you all the information you do need to see, none if the information that is irrelevant and therefore you don't need to see it, organizes the information you want and need to see logically.
There are many reasons software vendors have done this. The biggest reason is that the US GAAP Taxonomy does not make its semantics clear. Therefore, software vendors had to fall back on the XBRL technical syntax because they understand that. This situation needs to be corrected.
Full-featured verification software used when creating SEC XBRL financial reports will have far more features than are needed by a CEO, CFO or other business user who needs to look at one of these digital financial reports. However, those additional features are efficiency tools. The ability to look at every semantic object, every property of each of those semantic object, all the relations and the relations properties is core and fundamental to any business user looking at any SEC XBRL financial filing for any reason what-so-ever.