Extensible Business Reporting Language, or XBRL, the technology that tags financial information through disparate applications and carries it through the business reporting chain, can lower costs and provide enhanced analytical capabilities for users, preparers and consumers of financial statements. "It usually takes two years for data to go from the corporate reporting chain to actual economic policy-making," said Mike Willis, a partner at Big Four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and founding chairman of XBRL International. "Paper in the reporting process doesn't cut it; it's too manual and too expensive." Willis, one of the nation's leading authorities and proponents of XBRL, led a session titled, "Business Reporting in XBRL -- Tagging for U.S. GAAP" at the AICPA Information Technology Conference, here. Currently, XBRL International has 350 member organizations in 24 countries. In the United States, XBRL reporting programs are underway at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. However, it has been slower to gain traction domestically. "Information labels are inconsistent from one application to another, such as ERP to Excel," said Willis. "Information goes in one direction -- there's no shared context." As an example, Willis said that large companies that have stakeholders in other countries have to publish annual reports or financial statements in other languages. In XBRL, the information is tagged and flowed into indigenous spreadsheets so that users don't have to be fluent in English to find the desired categories. "Accountants by nature tend to be reactive," Willis said. "But they need to be proactive with XBRL, or their relevancy in external reporting will dwindle."
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