Comparing Year 2 Filers, Apple and Dell, Using the XBRL Taxonomy Analyzer
Even after five years working with the technical aspects of XBRL and watching and participating in its international adoption, I still enjoy seeing the XBRL "Aha!" moment. That's the instant when an financial professional or analyst recognizes the benefits of making their numbers mean something by tagging them with concepts from a standard XBRL taxonomy such as the US GAAP or IFRS taxonomies.
It's the answer to the question, "Why tag with XBRL?" A colleague at WebFilings summarized it best when he said, "Tagging numbers is like tagging your photos. Once tagged, they're easy to find and you'll know what you've got right away—without squinting." And because the tags give them meaning, you'll also know which photos—or numbers—go together. That's the "Aha!" and that's what the XBRL Taxonomy Analyzer clearly demonstrates in practice.
Here's a quick example focused on discovering reporting practices by comparing Year 2 filers-Dell and Apple. First, they have a different perspective on segments: Dell segments by customer types, whereas Apple segments by geography. They both extend the taxonomy to capture their segments—a standard practice for this report.
Comparing segments for Apple and Dell using the XBRL Taxonomy Analyzer
Switching to a view by "Identifiers" (the unique ID for each concept in a taxonomy) and collapsing the left-hand panel of the Analyzer, we have another way to scan and compare. Here, we can see that Dell and Apple tie their segment revenue information back to their Consolidated Statements of Income (or operations) with different taxonomy choices and approaches.
Consolidated Statements of Income for Dell and Apple using the XBRL Taxonomy Analyzer
A quick check against each company's Consolidated Statement of Income confirms what we suspect, as shown above. Apple chooses to segment the same concept used on their face statement. Dell segments using a concept that is specific to the US GAAP segment reporting schedule, and then ties out to their Income Statement with the concept used for the total.
Dell segments using a concept that is specific to the US GAAP segment reporting schedule. View using the XBRL Taxonomy Analyzer.
In this example, we have two approaches to compare and learn from. First, there are multiple technical approaches to this schedule. Second, we should be aware of how we use XBRL to tie values back to the appropriate face statement. Since both approaches are technically valid, and both provide for reasonable comparability, both are good enough in the near term. We expect that the SEC will provide additional guidance in the future, utilizing the best experience of corporate filers.
The XBRL Taxonomy Analyzer is designed to help this process along. I think it makes quick, intuitive "search and compare" capabilities available to financial reporting folks seeking to best present their company's financials in XBRL—correct and compliant.
About the Author
Dean Ritz is a subject matter expert in information modeling with over three decades of experience in various data-dominated domains, including artificial intelligence, expert systems, object-oriented programming, and most recently the modeling of financial information. As a Senior Director at Workiva, he applies his expertise to product strategy for collaborative work management and the management of the company’s expanding patent portfolio. His interests extend to the topics of rhetoric and ethics, with scholarly work in these areas published by Oxford University Press (2011, 2009, 2007), and Routledge (2017).