Statement of Interest-Roger Debreceny

Name, organization and contact details

Roger Debreceny
Shidler College Distinguished Professor of Accounting
Shidler College of Business
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Google Voice: +1 (513) 393-9393


I have been involved with research and development on XBRL since my co-authored conference paper presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the American Accounting Association, subsequently published in the International Journal of Accounting Information Systems. More recently I co-chaired with Prof. Bill McCarthy of Michigan State University the Workshop on Ontological Specification of Interoperability Semantics for Financial Information and Business Reporting Systems funded by the National Science Foundation. The workshop was held in May 2008 covered somewhat similar ground to that of the W3C/XBRL workshop ( I am focused on issues such as taxonomy quality and interoperability and the impact of XBRL and similar technologies on the disclosure environment for private and public entities internationally.

Issues for Information Value Chain Integration*


XBRL has, in a relatively short time, become the pre-eminent standard for the exchange of business-oriented reporting data in electronic form. Indeed, at the level of generic information exchanges of business reports from discrete entities to information consumers or information intermediaries, XBRL is arguably the only available standard. We see significant adoption of XBRL across many countries in several environments. While the relevant XML and XBRL specifications provide a framework for the construction of XBRL-enable reporting solutions, there are many opportunities for developers of reporting environments to choose components of the XBRL suite of specifications, taxonomy design and the extent of taxonomy extensibility that is appropriate for their needs. This inherent flexibility allows XBRL to be used for a remarkable array of reporting value chains.

I illustrate some of these design challenges in the following Figure.


Design Choices

A key aspect guiding these choices, is the level of standardization in XBRL adoption, where information is to be compared with other XBRL-enabled data flows. Where a designer is only concerned with their own environment, design choices are difficult but significantly less complex than where there are comparisons or connectivity with other environments. We see two primary dimensions of standardization in this context, illustrated in the next figure. The first dimension is the “Level of XBRL Taxonomy Standardization.” This dimension measures the extent of standardization between the various taxonomies within potential information comparison or exchange. The second dimension belongs to the “Level of Measurement Standardization”. This dimension measures the extent to which content is standardized. Does a given concept have the same meaning in different taxonomies? Comparability can be achieved by moving across either or both of these vectors.


Four conditions are possible. At Condition A, there is low content and taxonomy standardization. The probability that information coming from different taxonomies in this combination can be compared is low. Moving along vector III to Condition B brings a very high standardization level of XBRL taxonomies. While there may be different underlying measurement techniques, there will be high levels of comparability of concepts. For example, construction of identical taxonomies for US GAAP and IFRS will allow comparison at the concept level. It will not allow reconciliation of different measurement techniques. Condition C has a high degree of measurement comparability but low levels of standardization at the taxonomy level. For example, the concept of is defined within the International System of Units. Yet, we could have taxonomies that each represented kilojoules in mutually incomprehensible fashions. The highest Level is condition D. Here we see high standardization of both taxonomy and content dimensions.

When considering standardization and XBRL adoption, it is important to consider the extension of existing taxonomies. When allowed, information providers can “add” additional elements to the core taxonomy and create a special extension. These additional elements are special to the information provider. Extensions can either help or hinder taxonomy standardization.

Costs and Benefits of Flexibility

As I discuss above, XBRL provides considerable flexibility in the design of reporting solutions. Flexibility comes, however, at a cost. Flexibility presents challenges for information producers and consumers. When information consumers must work with different data models, there are significant costs in interpretation. Similarly, when extensions are allowed by information providers, there is added lack of comparability. These impacts of flexibility may come at a cost to transparency when data models are inconsistent. We can currently observe this trend as regulators such as the CEBS faces issues with national COREP and FINREP extensions considers introducing a maximal data model approach where no extensions but only deletions would be allowed.

What comes from this analysis? First, when XBRL-based business-reporting solutions are proposed, there must be a clear understanding of the costs and benefits of flexibility. Flexibility in taxonomy design within the same knowledge domain is not, per se, undesirable. Rather, there are constraints on the extent of flexibility. Professional guidance, economic analysis and academic research are all necessary to understand the boundaries, costs and benefits of flexibility. Second, there is a clear need for research on the tools that can assist in appropriate taxonomy design that will maximize interconnectivity.


Some of the questions for information value chain integration include:

Role of Academic Research

I view these issues from a perspective of an academic that works at the intersection of accounting, auditing, information systems and computer science. Each of these disciplines have very different research traditions, publication outcomes and performance metrics. Even within the small sub-discpline of accounting information systems, we see clear differences between those researchers that take a design science perspective and those that take a natural science perspective. Yet, there are so many unanswered questions, it will be important to engender research collaboration, communication and interaction research communities. Further, the intersection of these research communities with the W3C and XBRL practice communities is also important. I trust that these issues will be discussed at the workshop.

* Based in large part on Piechocki, M., C. Felden, A. Gräning, and R. Debreceny. 2009. Design and Standardization of XBRL Solutions for Governance and Transparency. International Journal of Disclosure and Governance 6 (3):224-240.

Roger Debreceny. 20 August 2009.