Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL): Potential of Research in XBRL as a Social Artifact- An Essay

Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL): Potential of Research in XBRL as a Social Artifact- An Essay

Jagdish Pathak (Department of Accounting and Systems, Odette School of Business, University of Windsor, Windsor, Canada)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 4
DOI: 10.4018/ijeis.2013100107


In this brief theoretical narrative, the author intends to present a thought piece which would suggest that study of eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is not relevant to technological or financial domains alone. XBRL usage in the World of finance can easily bring out its impact on the society at large through its users in the finance and investment areas. XBRL is simply not a technological artifact alone but has turned into a social artifact. The author, therefore, proposes that future researchers of information systems should also look into the impact of XBRL on the society as a whole. This essay takes a foundational step toward a paradigm and suggests how one might usefully augment further studies with research on XBRL as social artifacts.
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Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is a language for the electronic communication of business and financial data, which is revolutionizing business reporting around the world. 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. XBRL is one of a family of extensible markup language (XML) languages, which is becoming a standard means of communicating information between businesses and on the internet1. As said, being a member of the family of languages based on XML, which is a standard for the electronic exchange of data between businesses, and on the internet. Under XML, identifying tags are applied to items of data so that they can be processed efficiently by computer software. XBRL is a powerful and flexible version of XML, which has been defined specifically to meet the requirements of business and financial information. It enables unique identifying tags to be applied to items of financial data, such as ‘net profit’. However, these are more than simple identifiers. They provide a range of information about the item, such as whether it is a monetary item, percentage, or fraction. XBRL allows labels in any language to be applied to items, as well as accounting references or other subsidiary 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 analyse 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 format by suitable mapping tools or it can be generated in XBRL by appropriate software2.

Figure 1 adopted from the recommendations of XBRL working group report depicts taxonomy schema and linkbase drawing conventions for XBRL. Many scholars have attempted to study XBRL from accounting perspective as it helps companies in reporting financial results and users in obtaining such results in further computable manner. However, rarely research studies are forthcoming to understand XBRL as a social artifact.

Figure 1.

Legend of taxonomy schema and Linkbase drawing conventions3


Xbrl: A Social Artifact

This note takes a foundational step toward a paradigm and suggests how one might usefully augment further studies with research on XBRL as social artifacts. Technological artifacts are physical/material as well as social constructions thus making it plausible to be called social artifacts too. Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is one such technological artifact functioning as a social construction in the life of an ordinary accountant to a highflying investment banker. The Potential social impact of XBRL is unlike several other closely resembling technological artifacts like object-oriented paradigm in the life cycle of software. Both the function and meaning of technical artifacts are mainly socially constructed. Usually the function of a technical artifact is taken to determine its use, but in particular, in XBRL a close interrelation between use and meaning can also be observed.

Similar to the social artifacts, XBRL possess both technical and symbolic properties. Moreover, the sociological study of XBRL-as-artifact can profitably apply prevailing social scientific theories of technology and symbolism to understand both: (1) the micro dynamics of why and how transacting parties creates individual devices, and (2) the macro dynamics of why and how larger social systems generate and sustain distinctive XBRL regimes. Seen in this light, the micro dynamics of XBRL implicate ‘‘technical’’ theories of transaction cost engineering, and ‘‘symbolic’’ theories of information technology. Seeing XBRL as social artifacts highlights a number of tensions and with them, research opportunities that traditional approaches tend to ignore. Like most artifacts, XBRL documents often emerge from the labors of specific artisans; but also like most artifacts, XBRL documents necessarily bear the markings of broader social contexts.

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