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Translating the XBRL Experience from Dutch to American

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 1 2009

As U.S. demand for clear and consistent financial information grows, and big government players like the SEC lean on big business to start adopting standardized ways of reporting their internal information out, data advocates are looking east -- to the Netherlands, that is. Amsterdam has embraced what's known as the "Dutch Taxonomy Project," a government-wide effort to use the XBRL data standard. Standing for eXtensible Business Reporting Language (EBRL is not nearly as sexy an acronym), XBRL borrows thinking from the semantic web, namely that calling concrete items reliable and reasonable names helps us to turn cold hard data into meaning. Yesterday, techPresident contributor David Stephenson talked up what we can learn from the Dutch experience on Federal New Radio: "[I]t really reduces the amount of forms you have to do, and at the same time, there's a tremendous benefit from a regulatory standpoint for protecting the public." That first bit -- that XBRL can help reduce paperwork and lower the cost of regulatory compliance -- might prove to be the key to selling big business on the wisdom of a standardized taxonomy. On the off chance that you haven't kept up on your Compliance Week RSS feeds, let me point you to a piece from Neil Baker where he makes that case. Again, the Dutch experience might prove instructive. Amsterdam has estimated that XBRL might save companies some $500 million in compliance costs each year. With the U.S. financial industry going through some tough times, now might be the window during which those sorts of savings look particularly attractive.