XBRL, the eXtensible Business Reporting Language, is an open standards-based reporting system built to accommodate the electronic preparation and exchange of business reports around the world. XBRL started back in 1999 with 12 organizations as the founding members. There are now in excess of 450 organizations worldwide in over 30 countries involved in its development. It provides major benefits in the preparation, analysis and communication of business information. It offers cost savings, greater efficiency and improved accuracy and reliability to all those involved in supplying or using financial data. The idea behind XBRL, eXtensible Business Reporting Language, is simple. Instead of treating financial information as a block of text - as in a standard internet page or a printed document - it provides an identifying tag for each individual item of data. This is computer readable. For example, company net profit has its own unique tag. The introduction of XBRL tags enables automated processing of business information by computer software, cutting out laborious and costly processes of manual re-entry and comparison. Computers can treat XBRL data "intelligently" as they can recognize the information in a XBRL document, select it, analyze it, store it, exchange it with other computers and present it automatically in a variety of ways for users. XBRL greatly increases the speed of handling of financial data, reduces the chance of error and permits automatic checking of information. Companies can use XBRL to save costs and streamline their processes for collecting and reporting financial information. Consumers of financial data, including investors, analysts, financial institutions and regulators, can receive, find, compare and analyze data much more rapidly and efficiently if it is in XBRL format. XBRL can handle data in different languages and accounting standards. It can flexibly be adapted to meet different requirements and uses. Data can be transformed into XBRL by suitable mapping tools or it can be generated in XBRL by appropriate software.
XBRL is all about the electronic tagging of data. It has been compared to the introduction of bar-coding and to the introduction of the ISBN number for books. While financial data is an obvious choice for electronic tagging, all data can be tagged. XBRL is an extension of XML, the eXtensible Markup Language. An extensible language means one that is designed to easily allow the addition of new features at a later date.
The XML specifications are developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. The XML specifications provide a standard format for computerized documents that is flexible enough to be used for diverse needs such as websites, genealogy, real estate listings and voice mail systems, and more. XBRL International is responsible for over seeing the development of the XBRL Specification which sets out exactly how the data is going to be tagged for use in XBRL related projects.