Tuesday, December 11, 2007

XBRL - How the accountants stuffed the PR's

Neville Hobson blog about the first companies to use the eXensible Markup Language designed for the financial sector, the eXtensible Business Markup Language (XBRL).

XBRL is an emerging XML-based standard that permits the automatic exchange and reliable extraction of financial information across all software formats and technologies. It enhances the usability and transparency of financial information reported under existing accounting standards by reducing the need to manually key information, thereby minimizing the risk of data entry error.

Some years ago, with a forward looking groups I was privileged to be involved with a similar initiative for the PR industry (XPRL) and wrote the vision document for it.

One of its objectives was to offer the means by which computers could understand the elements of financial reporting - the PR bits as opposed to the accountancy bits, a point I have made in the past.

Not a single in-house financial PR department or major financial PR agency would get involved but that does not mean companies are not taking the matter seriously:

Curt Anderson, senior director of Investor Relations for Microsoft. “As more companies make their financial statements available in XBRL format, key financial information will be more easily and quickly comparable and analyzed across industries and companies.”

It would seem that this is not so much a matter for PR then.

Except, of course the media wants it:

Michael Porch, senior vice president, News Capabilities Group, Reuters says "XBRL gives the financial community a standard way of digitally publishing, extracting and exchanging company financial reports and associated information. Reuters is interested in exploiting the power of XBRL to bring value to our customers."

Some our traditional media see XML as the way forward for which the PR industry is simply ill prepared.

Business Wire XBRL offering, has gone it alone with a proprietary scheme that enables wide earnings table displays, bulleted highlight lists, text hyperlinks and other style options. They say that Business Wire provides the most advanced XBRL systems and tools and I bet they charge the rate that goes with beggar thy neighbour - that is the PR industry that does not have a sector-wide capability.

XBRL, got the prize and locked out the PR industry. Industry will have to adopt these standards soon. It is to be a requirement in the UK. If we want to issue a trading statement, add more words, graphs, pictures or stream video of the AGM, we have to go through a range of proprietors systems AND go cap in hand to the accountants to integrate PR content into XBRL.

So far, the PR industry has made a muck of the whole exercise and there is no logic that will get the PR industry to come out of its stupor.

Now, CIPR, IABC, PRCA, and the other Global Alliance members as well as ICO will have to negotiate bits into the XBRL schema if the PR industry is going to have much say in the content that can used in future machine readable content. Without XPRL, or an institution like it, they don't have a leg to stand on.

In an era when 700,000 thirteen to sixteen year olds in the UK regularly use virtual environments it is time that someone among the leaders of the PR industry showed some visionary leadership by understanding that today a range of 'publics' use media with a reach three times greater than the print edition of the FT. Its just not unusual - its already commonplace and its digital.