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XBRL FAQ: XBRL is not a transactional standard, and at the same time it is used to represent transactions in domains like HR, auditing, integrated reporting. Why is that?

Q I often hear that XBRL should not be used to record transactions, but I also hear about the benefits of XBRL in domains like human resources, manufacturing, auditing, integrated reporting, where much of the relevant information is transactional in nature. How is this possible?
A XBRL is not a transactional standard, meaning that it was not conceived nor optimized to standardize transactional data – such as invoices, orders, time sheets, or sustainability information – for the purpose of easily exchanging them between different parties. There are many domain or industry specific standards that are optimized for that purpose, such as UBL for invoices, HR-XML for human resources, or MISMO for the mortgage industry.XBRL is a Business Reporting Supply Chain (BRSC) integration standard. Transactions are part of the BRSC in any domain or industry, and XBRL can and should be used to represent them as they flow from initial entry in a software application to different levels of aggregation and summarization in internal reports, which then roll up to various forms of external reports.In other words, if you have to represent an invoice to exchange it with your providers, use UBL. But if you want to streamline and automate your internal processes and capture not only specific transactions but any kind of transactions within your information systems, and the way in which they relate with other transactions and the various level of internal and external reporting that they feed, XBRL is the right – and only – choice.in this perspective, transactional standards are a subset of the possible source formats that can be represented with XBRL GL for the purpose of their integration in the BRSC, together with proprietary formats to represent transactions used in various accounting software and ERP applications. For example, conversion models between UBL and XBRL GL and between HR-XML and XBRL GL have been created, just as mappings between, say, SAP or Quickbooks invoices and XBRL GL have been created.Once the transactional data is represented with XBRL GL, it can be integrated with any other type of transactional data, standard or proprietary, for any module or application in use within the information system. Once that happens, it can be consistently aggregated, analyzed, monitored, audited, summarized, and reported on using the features of XBRL GL and its built-in integration with XBRL taxonomies for end reporting. This is what “integration of the BRSC” means in practice.
If you have a XBRL question that you think is of general interest, just contact me or send me a direct tweet at @iphixbrl. I will answer it as an XBRL FAQ.
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