CSO scores a first with new e-reporting technology

21 Jul 2005

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has implemented a new electronic business-reporting tool and is believed to be the first organisation in Ireland to go live with this technology.

To produce one of its quarterly surveys, the CSO piloted extensible business reporting language (XBRL), which structures financial information in way that can be easily understood by computers.

XBRL works on a similar principle to XML in that it describes the content and structure of data, avoiding the need to open documents to find the information within them. XBRL is a business-reporting extension of that and covers small form-based sets of data through to full financial statements.

For the pilot scheme, the CSO created an XBRL version of one of its forms, the Quarterly Accounts Inquiry to Industry. This survey covers all enterprises employing 20 or more people that are engaged in the mining, manufacturing and energy sectors. It reports on changes in stocks, acquisitions and sales of capital assets during a quarter. Seven respondent companies participated in the pilot and successfully submitted data electronically using XBRL.

Although other companies may have published information in XBRL format for internal consumption, this is the first time in Ireland that XBRL data has been sent from a provider to an outside party.

Fujitsu Software Corporation and PricewaterhouseCoopers worked with the CSO to ensure that the XBRL data could be processed quickly and efficiently. Fujitsu Software Corporation used its XBRL toolkit, Interstage XWand, to define an XBRL taxonomy for the report; this specified the type and structure of the data sought. PWC designed a Microsoft Excel form which exported data as an XBRL instance document, allowing responding companies to create the XBRL report. Using Excel allowed companies participating in the pilot to enter data in a format that is familiar to them.

Internationally, XBRL technology is gaining momentum and it is thought that when there is a greater level of XBRL adoption in Ireland, companies will be able to complete the survey directly from their accounting systems or financial software, making it easier to comply with CSO reporting obligations.

Maureen Delamere, head of e-government with the CSO, said the pilot scheme was part of a major project for the organisation, which is in the process of developing its taxonomy – an inventory of all of the business variables that it needs to collect from the various groups that will provide data to it. This taxonomy will be available for download from the CSO’s website. “We’re at the start of a long-term process,” Delamere told siliconrepublic.com. “The point of this project was to show that XBRL isn’t just proof of concept, it really does work.”

She said the seven participants in the pilot phase found the technology easy to use and it helped to eliminate administrative overhead. “Having spoken to them myself, they’re very enthusiastic about it,” she added. “They want to be able to provide data in a way that’s fast and efficient for them.”

In the future, it may be possible for organisations to return several surveys at one time using XBRL instead of having to locate and compile the information every time, said Delamere. “Once the matching and tagging has been set up from day one [eg matching the business variables in a company’s financial statement with what the CSO requires], they could be sending data back to us literally within a couple of clicks.” The CSO participates in Business Reporting Ireland, a local group that is part of an international consortium that develops and promotes the XBRL standard.

Richard Day, XBRL champion with PwC in Ireland, added that the technology is widely deployed elsewhere but he anticipated that it would be another year or 18 months before it is adopted more broadly in Ireland. He added an additional benefit for organisations that use it would be that it could improve and streamline how they gather financial information – which they often tend to circulate within their own groups, even before it is sent to any outside parties.

By Gordon Smith