Nevada uses XBRL to streamline data reuse

Automated process also speeds entry and reduces errors

By formatting data for others' use, agencies might simultaneously make the data easier to reuse internally. For instance, Nevada is in the process of annotating its grants reporting in such a way that it can eliminate a lot of manual cutting and pasting within the state's offices.

The state is applying the Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) to a number of its business processes and has plans to use it as part of its business Web portal, said State Controller Kim Wallin.

Created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, XBRL is a vendor-neutral extension of the Extensible Markup Language (XML) and offers a large set of markup tags for reporting on business activities. A wide range of commercial accounting and enterprise software recognize the tags, which makes it is easier to automatically move data into various reports the state must generate.

The state is starting with grants reporting. Nevada documents how it uses federal grant money on a monthly basis for external and internal use. Employees who generate the reports must download the data from multiple sources, usually in a comma-separated values (CSV) file. They then must paste parts of those datasets into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

The approach is time-consuming for employees — it takes an average of two weeks for an employee to generate the monthly report. And, as with any manual process, cutting and pasting data creates opportunities for errors. To automate the process, the controller's office is developing an XBRL GL Adapter that applies tags to each general ledger entry. After the CSV file is downloaded, the XBRL data fields can be populated directly into a report employees build using Web-based XForms that process XML. All in all, generating a report should take about an hour, she added.

Wallin also would like to use XBRL to develop a Web portal for businesses. Right now, the process of starting a business in Nevada, as in many other states, involves applying for permits and licenses at a number of agencies. And each agency collects a lot of the same information, such as name and address.

The controller's office plans to establish a statewide taxonomy that different agency systems can use to share basic information so business owners only need to supply it once. "It will be a one-stop shop for all business transactions," she said.

Just as Nevada uses XBRL to improve data movement, the federal government could use it for similar duties, Wallin predicted. For example, she said, it could help track the billions of dollars that Congress is allotting to the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Another candidate is the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. In March, members of the XBRL Consortium told Congress that the language could oversee how money is dispersed through this legislation. Requiring financial firms to file reports in XBRL would make it easier for the government and investors to evaluate those firms' activities, they said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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