The benefits of XBRL
XBRL can provide investors with easier access to information in a more usable format than PDF. A PDF document treats financial information as a block of text, while an XBRL document can break down that same information into unique items of data, with an identifying tag attached to each item.
For example, preparers using XBRL can tag line items in an statement of comprehensive income, such as “revenue”, “cost of sales” and “profit”. Using XBRL enabled software, this data can then be extracted and compared against the XBRL data of other fiscal periods or other companies. In PDF, this information must be located in each document and re-input into a spreadsheet or other program before it can be analyzed.
As a result, XBRL can make it easier for investors and analysts to gain access to data and to analyze the financial information from a greater number of companies—including smaller companies they may have previously overlooked.
How XBRL works
As explained above, when creating a document using XBRL, the preparer will assign tags to each item of data. For the voluntary program, the items of data are the line items on a financial statement. The tags act like a bar code, providing information about each item of data. XBRL tags exist within a taxonomy, essentially a dictionary of the XBRL terms.
This XBRL taxonomy is available at XBRL Canada’s website.
Other organizations involved with XBRL
XBRL Canada developed the Canadian GAAP taxonomy. XBRL Canada’s website contains a help page for the voluntary program, as well as information about XBRL software, XBRL and its uses around the world.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has operated an XBRL filing program since March 2005. Prototype XBRL viewers are available on the SEC website and operate within an internet browser.