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Debate over XBRL cost

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Recall that accelerated filers, those with the largest market caps, have been required to in stages to file 10Qs and 10Ks using XBRL since the middle of June 2010. The remainder of public companies were phased in, leading us to an implementation milestone. For the quarter ending in June, all public companies will be filing statements in XBRL.

There's no looking back, folks. We're seeing nonaccelerated filers -- the companies with the smallest market caps -- going through the same struggles that larger companies did. Many have wisely gone with a third-party service provider. One survey has found that nearly 40 percent have gone with WebFilings and 31 percent with Donnelly. But even as XBRL becomes a staple of the reporting landscape, the debate still rages: Is it worth the costs?

In some ways, the point is moot. XBRL will not magically go away. We've seen many new regulations challenged and will undoubtedly see more. But no one is taking on XBRL. No one is asking for a rollback to pre-XML electronic reporting. Most people are resigned to not only filing their 10Qs and 10Ks in the format, but filing the forms in more detail (the footnotes are next for many companies). They're also thinking about filing other forms in XBRL as well, such as proxies. Taxonomies are in the works for more detailed reporting at many levels.

One WebFilings executive tells ComputerWorld that, "In general, the corporate world that's required to do this regards it as onerous. They'll use the Republican buzzwords about excessive government regulation. You can say what you want about the government, but this is being adopted all over the world."

While the longevity of the standard seems assured, it sure would be nice to see some truly useful applications. In general, this much-promised benefit of adoption has been slow to materialize. The industry, to its credit, continues to press for better usage. An upcoming  conference hosted by XBRL US will feature analytical tools demonstrations, panels on XBRL data structure and on how to create XBRL databases. Finalists from the 2011 XBRL Challenge, an open source analytical tools contest will present applications. In short, the application market is still being seeded. We can only hope a truly killer application arises soon. -Jim

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