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EDGAR Is Getting a Facelift

POSTED: 10:53 AM ET, 08/19/2008 by Amanda Zamora
TAGS: EDGAR, SEC, finance

And so is financial investigative journalism.

The Securities and Exchange Commission will be announcing today the successor to EDGAR, its Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system. EDGAR will be supplemented, and then eventually replaced, by IDEA, which is short for Interactive Data Electronic Applications.

EDGAR is the SEC's free, online financial disclosure database accessible to any user on the Web, that holds financial data from more than 12,000 publicly traded companies and 8,000 mutual funds. It is an indispensable tool for business journalists, investors, analysts and regulators. EDGAR provides transparency, allowing users the ability to access valuable financial documents, from 10-K reports to footnotes.

EDGAR, however, is outdated. Data is presented in one-dimensional block text. The data compiled among its countless pages of filings can be hard to navigate, search, and at times, understand. The financial disclosures of a single company can stretch on for hundreds of pages and be rich with legalese and businesspeak.

In contrast with the 1980s-era, document-based EDGAR platform, IDEA is Internet-based. At its core will be IDEA's utilization of the interactive data technology XBRL, or eXtensible Business Reporting Language.

XBRL works similar to the bar code system at a grocery store, but for financials. Individual items from a companies' financial statements are marked, or tagged, with an identification code unique to that particular item. Those tags are then readable by computer programs, just as scanners read the bar codes at checkout. The result is a universal language of "interactive data" that can be read across different systems and applied to any number functions.

Interactive data is easily searchable and can be downloaded into spreadsheets or reorganized in databases. And XBRL is compatible with XML, the main computer language used across the Internet.

IDEA will enable anyone with an Internet connection - from investors to accountants to analysts and investigative journalists - to conduct intrinsic comparisons and analyses of financial data from all publicly traded companies and mutual funds with a few clicks of a mouse.

Today's IDEA announcement is timely. The SEC proposed a rule in May that would require all U.S. publicly traded companies and mutual funds to prepare and file financial information with the agency using XBRL. As the proposal now stands, the first wave of companies -- the 500 largest in the country -- will have to comply by Dec. 15, 2008. The next group of companies -- numbering about 1,200 -- will have until Dec. 15, 2009. The rest will have to adopt the technology by Dec. 15, 2010.

Mutual funds would be required to provide interactive data-tagged information beginning with registration statement filings that become effective after Dec. 31, 2009.

IDEA will eventually replace EDGAR, though the document-based database will not be gone completely. It will continue to exist as a free, online archive accessible to the public.

Read more on the SEC's new interactive data system in today's business section.

-- Christopher Twarowski, Washington Post Staff Writer

By Amanda Zamora |  August 19, 2008; 10:53 AM ET
Previous: FBI Stands by 'Powerful' Evidence in Anthrax Case | Next: Exclusive: Hollywood Producer Brought Hunter into Edwards Camp


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Actually the main computer language used across the Internet is C, or possibly C++. Without it, there would be no Internet at all...

Still this is good news, it's a badly needed update.

Posted by: Nym | August 19, 2008 8:42 PM

I hope IDEA has email updates!

Posted by: Analyst in San Diego | August 20, 2008 11:37 AM

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