Digital Standardization in Government

Many governments, including the Canadian Government, are digitizing their activities, including their reporting of financial and other information.

This includes efforts to make available open data, in various forms, such as CSV, XML, XBRL and JSON. XBRL is used in several countries, including, notably, Australia and the Netherlands, for Standardized Business Reporting (SBR) where the government uses XBRL to communicate with its citizens and vice versa. Costs of filing are substantially reduced as a result.

In other countries, other standards are often used. XBRL International has rreleased the Open Information Model, which provides a syntax-independent model for XBRL data, allowing reliable transformation of XBRL data into other representations. The work product includes:

  • The Open Information Model (OIM): a syntax-independent definition of an XBRL report.
  • xBRL-XML: mappings from the original XML-based syntax for XBRL to the OIM.
  • xBRL-JSON: a standard JSON representation for XBRL data, defined in terms of the OIM.
  • xBRL-CSV: a standard CSV representation for XBRL data, defined in terms of the OIM, and leveraging the W3C's standards for tabular metadata.
  • OIM Common: common definitions used by other OIM-based specifications.

The State of Florida in the United States provides a good example of data standardization in action. It has more than 400 separate municipalities, including 282 cities. Like every other unit of government in that country, they  prepare “CAFRs” or Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports in accordance with US Government Accounting Standards. Those reports are analog. Given the importance of municipal bond markets to the long term funding of local and state infrastructure in the US, this seems preposterous.

However, Florida is in the last stages of finalising legislation that will require the collaborative design and implementation of XBRL based reporting from municipalities. The CAFR will go digital. An experiment, but one with a strong chance of success.

By using inline XBRL, they will be able to present financial information in web pages, which will be easy for people to read, while at the same time, those web pages will include tags that can be read by other machines and interpreted without human intervention.