SAP Plays the Data Tagging Game

With the XBRL mandate now official, software companies begin rolling out offerings aimed at solving corporate data-tagging woes.
Kate PlourdFebruary 20, 2009

With the XBRL mandate from the Securities and Exchange Commission now official, business software vendors are starting to push their data-tagging capabilities harder than ever.

A week after the SEC’s mandate that the 500 largest public companies start to file their financial results using the interactive data tagging language known as XBRL this year, software vendor SAP launched “XBRL Publisher,” a new application created in partnership with XBRL software provider UBMatrix. The offering allows users of SAP applications, such as BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation, Financial Consolidation and Business Suite software packages to tag financial reporting data aligned with taxonomies for U.S. GAAP and HM Revenue & Customs in the UK.

Coming so shortly after the SEC finally took the long-expected step of making XBRL, the new SAP offering shows that software vendors, like many of their corporate customers, have been preparing for XBRL for some time, but waiting for a mandate before making a serious commitment. That’s not to say, however, that this is the first XBRL brought to market by software vendors — or, for that matter, from SAP.

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“SAP already had a relatively primitive XBRL tagging tool included in their ERP system,” recalls Robert Kugel, senior vice president and research director of Ventana Research, a business and technology research firm.  “You can’t blame software vendors for [waiting] like this because for a decade XBRL was considered the next big thing.”

SAP’s competing business software vendor Oracle says the “XBRL Manager” feature of Oracle Hyperion Financial Reporting has been available since 2006, allowing organizations using it “to consolidate, analyze, approve, and then report financial results in XBRL formats. That includes organizations mandated to report in XBRL this April and beyond,” according to Oracle spokesperson Eloy Ontiveros.

Now that the mandate is official, experts expect to see more business software vendors launching applications with XBRL capabilities down the line.

“SAP is just the first step of what’s going to be a much more extensive set of capabilities that [vendors] will offer as requirements for the US filers expand,” says Kugel. “They’ll have more capabilities down the road too.”

Companies also have the option of working with an XBRL software vendor directly. SAP’s “XBRL Publisher” is provided through UB Matrix, and vendors such as Fujitsu, Hitachi, NeoClaurs and Rivet Software also offer software applications that companies can use themselves to tag financial reports in XBRL format.

There are also a few smaller companies, such as Canadian-based Clarity, that offer XBRL reporting services that are built into a financial reporting system so tagging is automated. John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR research thinks that as more companies are required to report in XBRL, more software vendors will make similar applications available.

“We’ve seen that the demand has been kind of slow, especially in North America because there hasn’t been a mandate until now,” says Hagerty. “The software vendors have been reluctant, but over time you’ll see that as XBRL becomes the standard, companies will want to use either the third party product that attaches on to the end of the reporting process or this automated process.”

Moreover, Kugel wouldn’t be surprised to see companies dump the data tagging duty on their financial statement printers, such as Merrill Corporation, RR Donnelley and Bowne, in the first round of XBRL reporting. “The financial printers are offering it because they’re going from creating the physical document to a digital document and this is a critical piece of their value-add,” he says.

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