by Mike Willis

SEC XBRL Mandate: What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

Opinion
Jun 30, 20085 mins
ComplianceIT Leadership

Large companies must comply with the new XBRL mandate for year-end financial reports beginning this year. Don't know what it is? The Extensible Business Reporting Language reduces internal manual processes for operations, management and financial reporting. And it reduces costs.

There are few areas where the CIO-CFO partnership can pay off as effectively as with the implementation of the Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) in reporting, risk management and compliance processes. CIOs can potentially realize enhanced process efficiencies and effectiveness, while CFOs can potentially realize speed, streamlining and flexibility of reporting functions.

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The choice is whether you’ll be catching up with mandated time lines and eventual peer pressure or taking advantage of a proven track record with energetic, forward-looking action targeting specific process benefits.

Complying With a Regulatory Mandate

Every public company is probably already hearing about XBRL due to the recently proposed rule by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would mandate the use of XBRL for company reports to the capital markets. This proposal impacts the largest 500 companies for their 2008 year-end reports and all other public companies in the following two years. So CIOs and CFOs who are not familiar with XBRL will need to be soon.

However, XBRL goes beyond being a new, more useful SEC filing format. It is a key tool for reducing or eliminating the wide range of internal manual processes necessary for operations, management—and, yes, financial reporting. A few leading companies are already benefiting from reduced costs and reporting risk related to standardization and simplification with XBRL—what can it mean for your organization?

In the short term, the application of XBRL to company financial statements may not be a priority for many corporate CIOs due to the existing highly manual reporting and control processes. To put it simply: If company reports were cars, reporting processes would be classified in a “Pre-Henry Ford” era, where each report is manually assembled by highly skilled craftsmen.

Leverage Historical Examples

Manually applying tags at the very end of the supply chain is exactly what happened when bar codes (i.e., UPC) were first introduced. Grocery store managers quickly realized the benefits of standardization and pushed for earlier application in supply chain processes.

CIOs can wait for the call from the CFOs to apply XBRL earlier in the supply chain or they can proactively engage their CFOs. The opportunity exists to realize significant value by leveraging XBRL to gain control of and streamline internal processes that drive data aggregation from source applications to end reporting, and achieve compliance with the SEC mandate along the way. Here are a few examples:

  • United Technologies Corporation implemented XBRL within its corporate reporting assembly and review processes, realizing a 20 percent cost and time reduction. (ROI on XBRL)
  • Wacoal implemented XBRL to create interoperability across some 30-plus disparate ERP systems and processes in six months at a $100M cost avoidance over traditional single instance ERP implementation. (Breathing New Life into Old Systems with XBRL GL)
  • Fujitsu, a large ERP vendor, has announced its internal corporate use of XBRL to realize benefits, including consistency and standardization across all in-house applications (some 130 in total); cost savings; transparency of information, and extensibility in global data consumption and process capabilities.

Like the bar code, XBRL is a standardized method for describing business information. XBRL is currently being used to articulate a wide range of business information concepts, including anti-money laundering, risk management, financial and business disclosures, risk and return, and ledgers of all types within the enterprise.

Not Just for External Reporting

XBRL is not only relevant to the SEC proposed mandate; it is designed to economically enable standardization of the entire business reporting supply chain. Primary targets of the XBRL standard include the range of existing internal manual processes, manual controls, manual procedures, and the resulting delay and/or errors in decision making. This is the domain of the XBRL Global Ledger, designed to work in conjunction with financial reporting taxonomies like U.S. GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) to streamline the business reporting supply chain.

XBRL provides an enterprise and supply chain platform for articulating business information concepts and related presentation rules, analytical formulas and business rules, and references to relevant resources; all of which can be efficiently delivered via Web service. XBRL enables a standardized layer of abstraction that can be accessed and executed by a wide range of software, thereby enhancing the transparency, communication and processes spanning the range of internal enterprise disparate applications.

Also, as Wacoal found out, the application of the XBRL standard within the enterprise enhances agility in post-merger environments. When newly acquired organizations, with their own incremental level of disparate proprietary applications and architectures, need to be quickly accessed and incorporated within the enterprise, ledger-level standardization is an efficient solution that generates very powerful economic returns.

CIOs should reach out to their CFOs to discuss how well the organization is doing at creating a continuously updated, consolidated view of:

  • Each customer
  • Each product
  • Properties and other fixed assets
  • Key business process performance metrics.

Any company using manual processes to perform any of these functions is likely to find that the functions could be more effectively tied together using XBRL. XBRL can also be useful in enhancing other internal corporate compliance, risk management and performance processes, not to mention compliance with the proposed SEC mandate.

Mike Willis is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and was the founding chairman of XBRL International.