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Creating a Niche Business: Digital Financial Reporting Tools for Accountants

Hey software developers! Want to create a nice little business?  Build tools which help accountants do digital financial reporting, such as SEC XBRL financial reports.  There is no need to even understand XBRL. XBRL Cloud has a nice little web service which hides XBRL in the background. There are other XBRL processors out there such as Arelle (open source), Semansys, ReportingStandards, CoreFilings, and others. Pick your poison.

Me, I used XBRL Cloud to create this working prototype tool using Excel.  Granted, I am not a programmer (i.e. that is why I am encouraging you to consider building tools).  But take a look at what I was able to do in a matter of about 10 minutes using my tool: compare the balance sheets of the most current 10-K (on the LEFT side) of a reporting entity with the prior 10-K (on the RIGHT side).  Here is the result:

  • Apple: Note how they went from an extension concept to a US GAAP taxonomy concept for PPE.
  • Boeing: They also went from an extension to a US GAAP taxonomy concept, a few other interesting things to notice.
  • Home Depot: Moved the detail of PPE off the balance sheet, likely to the disclosures.  Tuned their inventory concept.
  • IBM: Went from using an explicit [Table] to using an implied table.
  • Intel: Looks like they have no accrued taxes in the current period.
  • McDonalds:  Changed their network identifier for some reason.
  • Microsoft: A few changes.
  • Walt Disney: Interesting line item, Television Costs.

Easy to use, nothing really technical about this, most of XBRL is hidden in the background.  Accountants can relate to this.

Grab my Excel prototype, it works and all the code is there.  Clearly my code is not the best (not much error checking, nothing sophisticated, perhaps not efficient).  If you even just improve this working prototype to make it more stable, make it work for ANY SEC filing, make the comparison work to compare a pre-submission filing, or even better; compare the RENDERING (i.e. the model structure AND the facts not at the syntax level but rather at the SEMANTIC level) you will have created a very, very useful product.

Accountants need these niche tools for specific tasks like this.  Sure, business report creation tools are important but we need utility tools like this also. And this comparison utility is just one idea; I have hundreds of others. 

Digital financial reporting is just getting started, the window of opportunity is open. For some things, sure, you need to understand XBRL.  For others, it is far more important to understand the accounting aspects.  Don't understand accounting?  Ask an accountant.

If you create anything interesting please let me know.

Posted on Friday, May 10, 2013 at 07:14AM by Registered CommenterCharlie in | CommentsPost a Comment

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