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"After 75 years of document-based static financial reporting, whether in paper documents or in electronic equivalents, it is exciting to see the SEC poised to cross the 'data threshold' and help investors receive financial information that is dynamic, usable and ready to go as they make their investment decisions. And when the investor wins, so does the public company, fund, or other filer who simultaneously benefits from greater transparency and trust in our markets. By tapping the power of interactive data to tear down barriers to quick and meaningful investment information, markets can become fairer and more efficient while investors can possess far better quality data than was ever possible before." - David Blaszkowsky, Director of the SEC's Office of Interactive Disclosure.

SEC: What is Interactive Data

From the SEC’s spotlight on Tagged Data and XBRL Initiatives for EDGAR Filings:

What is Interactive Data?

Interactive data means giving investors quicker access to the information they want in a form that’s easily used; helping companies prepare the information more quickly and more accurately; and helping knowledge capital keep up with financial capital, as both flow more quickly around the world. 

Today, financial information publishers offer a wealth of data about stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Unfortunately, investors who seek specific information directly from the source must often manually search lengthy corporate annual reports or lengthy mutual fund documents. Even if these documents are online, they are often digital blobs with limited search capability. Meanwhile, companies use thousands of spreadsheets and untold hours to manually convert information from their internal systems into government-prescribed formats. Whether it’s the individual investor or an employee at a financial publisher who’s poring over a company report, the need to search for and extract particular information in such documents can be time consuming.

Interactive data pinpoints the facts and figures trapped in today’s often lengthy disclosure documents, allowing investors to immediately pull out exactly the information they want, and instantly compare it to the results of other companies, performance in past years, industry averages – however the investor wishes to slice and dice the data. As more companies embrace interactive data, sophisticated analysis tools now used by financial professionals could become available to the average investor. Meanwhile, for the financial pros and financial publishers, analyzing companies could become cheaper and easier, as inputting and re-keying costs are lower and resources are freed to focus on creating better analytical tools. As with any conversion from manual to automated processes, replacing document-based reporting with data-based reporting also promises tremendous cost savings to any company that undertakes it.

http://www.sec.gov/spotlight/xbrl.shtml

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