XBRL: A New Language for the Large Data Challenge

Posted by | January 10, 2012

While I’ve already written a few blog posts, I thought this would be a good opportunity to properly introduce myself on the blog, as my professional roles offer me a distinctive point of view on XBRL.

I’m Phil Moyer, Vice President and Managing Director in Safeguard Scientifics’ Technology Group. I’m responsible for deploying capital in and partnering with technology companies in the financial technology and Enterprise 3.0 industries. I also serve on the Board of XBRL US, a not-for-profit consortium of over 600 companies and agencies worldwide working together to build the XBRL language and support its adoption. As a board member, I’m uniquely familiar with the large data problem, and ways that businesses can turn this problem into an opportunity.

The Opportunity for eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL)

XBRL is a code that enables efficient and reliable electronic communication of business and financial data. With the help of XBRL, reporting companies can communicate directly with investors in an easily consumable format—no intermediaries necessary. XBRL is quickly becoming the industry standard for storing, reporting, and exchanging financial data, a boon to investors who compare companies.

The Challenge of Large Data

XBRL filters the endless stream of data that pours in from reporting companies in various industries, from genetics to energy or supply chain management. The XBRL community has done a great job of generating a critical amount of data. But now that we have access to this data, how do we use it? How can it inform investors or help in analytics? Sifting through it all has been a daunting task in the past, but the newest generation of technologies analyzes this massive amount of data across multiple industries—a problem we haven’t been able to tackle before.

What Investors are Seeing

As we begin to understand the technology that makes this information suddenly available, we’re seeing a lot of attention focused on solving this large data problem, and XBRL is quickly rising to the challenge. It saves time and money and improves the accuracy and reliability of financial data for both reporting companies and investors.

Now that XBRL reports are required by the SEC, investors need a way to efficiently process and file such reports. As the VC industry evolves and starts financing the next generation of great companies, it will be looking for those who can solve large data issues in the most efficient way.

The XBRL Challenge

To encourage the development of better tools, XBRL has created the XBRL Challenge, which we hope will build the wealth of data available to analysts. We’re inviting the best and brightest to contribute open source analytical applications for investors that leverage corporate XBRL data. Submissions will be accepted through January 31, 2012. Prizes—including $20,000 to the best entry—will be awarded on February 29, 2012. As a judge, I’ll be looking forward to finding the next best tool for technological and financial services, and what the future holds for solving large data problems.

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