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Accounting Research Just Got a Whole Lot Easier Because of XBRL

Accounting research just got a whole lot easier because of XBRL.  You should start seeing commercial quality software which will enable accountants and other business users to perform tasks with far less effort than in the past in the near future.

How do I know? Well, because I built a working prototype of such software.  The three videos below will walk you through what that software does. I have been maintaining a tool which I used to analyze SEC XBRL financial filings.  What I could do was really interesting, but very limited due to my programming skills.

But now, I reconfigured much of my tool to use the XBRL Cloud Web Service which (a) replaces all of the infosets which I was working with and (b) provides independent renderings of EVERY SEC XBRL financial report component.

Way back in 1999 when we first started down the XBRL trail, I had created prototypes which showed how XBRL could be used to compare financial information across financial reports.  I compared that to the very popular AICPA product Accounting Trends and Techniques.  I have tried over, and over, and over to make this work how I wanted it to work. Well folks, this dream is now reality!

As I see it, everything else is about "the details."  Does my prototype work perfectly?  No, pretty much every aspect of this needs improvement. Is the data public companies are providing perfect? No, lots of room for improvement there also.  But fundamentally, this stuff works and if you look closely you can get a glimmer of what financial reporting will look like in the future. Digital financial reporting does have its advantages.

Check out the videos and screen shots below and decide for yourself if XBRL might be useful to accountants after all:

  • General overview: Provides a general walk through of the "Financial Reporting Trends" working prototype accountant's analysis tool.
  • Closer Look at Filtering Entities and Disclosures: Focuses on showing you how you can filter the long list of entities into different helpful groupings.  Also, shows how disclosures are organized in various ways to make working with them easier.
  • Closer Look at Viewing Financial Report Information: Focuses on showing you what information you have to work with once you get to the component you want to have a look at within a reporting entity's financial report.
  • Closer Look at Fundamental Accounting Information Extract and Working With Components: Focuses on showing you how a set of 51 fundamental accounting concepts are extracted from SEC XBRL financial filings and how a set of 21 tests are used to make sure the relations between those concepts are tested to be sure the information retrieved is correct.  This Excel version of this prototype lets you try out extracting fundamental accounting information from SEC XBRL financial filings. Looking at the code helps you grasp how to do it.
  • Screen shots: This is a set of screen shots to let you take a closer look at what my working prototype does.

And yes, all this stuff is in one application. The application was built using Microsoft Access which is a rapid prototyping tool. As I said above, a lot of the heavy lifting is done using the XBRL Cloud Web Service. My tool was NOT built to be a product.  You could probably look at the tool I created and find 50 different useful products. Literally.

I am not trying to win any awards with the video, just trying to quickly show what the working prototype does and learn better how to communicate this information so keep that in the back of your mind. The prototype is helpful in showing what XBRL can enable and more importantly what it takes to make digital financial reporting work.

A commercial tool which lets you do some of what I can do right now is Calcbench. Note their tools for auditors. Tools for M&A and benchmarking. Tools for academia. Others will likely create other useful tools for accounting research.

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