Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I just went to the SEC website, as I frequently do, and I have to say, it was a little scary. To announce the successor to EDGAR, called IDEA, the SEC's website starts off with electronic sound and a deep voice stating, ominously, "Information in the digital era should never be static." At first I thought some spam ad had taken over the site, but no -- it's just the fanfare. Here's the boring part:
The new system is called IDEA, short for Interactive Data Electronic Applications. Based on a completely new architecture being built from the ground up, it will at first supplement and then eventually replace the EDGAR system. The decision to replace EDGAR marks the SEC’s transition from collecting forms and documents to making the information itself freely available to investors to give them better and more up-to-date financial disclosure in a form they can readily use.
Currently, most SEC filings are available only in government-prescribed forms through EDGAR. Investors looking for information must sift through one form at a time, and then re-keyboard the information — a painstaking task. With IDEA, investors will be able to instantly collate information from thousands of companies and forms, and create reports and analysis on the fly, in any way they choose.
IDEA will ensure that both the SEC and the investors who rely upon the financial reporting the agency demands are ready for the new world of financial disclosure that will soon arrive when financial information is presented in interactive data format. The SEC has formally proposed requiring U.S. companies to provide financial information using interactive data beginning as early as next year, and separately has proposed requiring mutual funds to submit their public filings using interactive data.
Interactive data relies on computer “tags,” similar in function to bar codes, which identify individual items in a company’s financial disclosures. With every number on an income statement or balance sheet individually labeled, information about thousands of companies contained on thousands of forms could be easily searched on the Internet, downloaded into spreadsheets, reorganized in databases, and put to any number of other comparative and analytical uses by investors, analysts, journalists, and financial intermediaries.
The ease with which interactive data will make financial information available also is expected to generate many new Web-based services and products for investors.
Investors and others who currently use EDGAR will be able to continue doing so for the indefinite future. During the transition to IDEA, investors will be able to take advantage of new interactive, IDEA-like features that will be grafted onto EDGAR in the short run. This will make it possible for investors to tap IDEA’s advanced search capabilities, and to use the information from EDGAR within spreadsheets and analytical software – something that was never possible with EDGAR. The EDGAR database also will continue to be available as an archive of company filings for past years.