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Posted by Marie Leone | | US
August 31, 2006 9:46 AM ET
The SEC announced today that its next Small Business Forum, scheduled for Friday, September 29, will focus on interactive data. "Interactive data" is a code phrase for XBRL, which, in turn, is code for the Internet-language method of tagging financial data. (In other words, I suppose, it's code for code for code.)

Nudging companies to adopt XBRL has become somewhat of a pet project of Chairman Cox.

As reported, the SEC has shied away from requiring companies to adopt XBRL, even though Chairman Cox argues publicly that it would make financial statements easier for investors to use and compare. But that doesn't mean that the chairman doesn't do his share of prodding. An XBRL pilot program has attracted 25 big companies to adopt the method, and Cox has asked software vendors to develop a tool for the SEC's EDGAR online filing system, which is where public company financials are filed.

Now it looks like the chairman is aiming his XBRL prod at smaller companies—the same companies that went to the mat with Cox over Sarbox Section 404, calling for a scaled-back version because they said the internal controls regulations were too onerous and costly for small companies to bear.

Wouldn't small companies be likely to feel the same way about implementing XBRL? By some estimates, it's not a particularly expensive proposition. Yet even with incentives from the SEC, most of the 25 companies willing to volunteer for the XBRL pilot program were large and "appear to have some commercial interest in [XBRL's] widespread adoption," writes Alix Stuart in her article XBR-What?.

So what are the odds that the chairman's prodding will convince smaller companies to jump on the XBRL cattle car? Skeptics abound at companies of all sizes. Witness Comcast controller Lawrence Salva, who told the SEC at a roundtable that "The payback is difficult to quantify," or Bill Ferko, CFO of Genlyte Group, who expressed support for the goal of transparency, but noted "XBRL really doesn't do that much for the company, for the registrant."

Let's see what the small-business contingent has to say on September 29.

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