XML May Make Accounting Easier

US CPA's work on XML specification to make it easier for companies to exchange financial information

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the nation's Big Five accounting firms are developing an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based specification that's designed to make it easier and cheaper for companies to share financial information.

The specification, currently known as XFRML (XML-based Financial Reporting Markup Language), will be freely licensed when a functional version is released, which should be in March, said Louis Matherne, information technology director at the AICPA, a national association of certified public accountants that boasts more than 330,000 members.

XFRML would make it easier for companies to share financial information from incompatible spreadsheets and other applications across disparate operating systems such as Windows NT and IBM’s OS/390 mainframe software, said Wayne Harding, a vice president at Great Plains Software Inc. in Denver and chairman of the AICPA’s high-tech task force.

Matherne and Harding both declined to project how much time, and therefore money, the specification could save companies that use it. However, Harding said prototype financial reports developed at Great Plains were created in a fraction of the time it would have otherwise taken to develop them. The prototypes were funded by the AICPA, noted Harding.

The AICPA, which has been developing the specification for the past year with big accounting firms such as Ernst & Young LLP, will roll out prototype versions of XFRML to about 10 companies in different vertical industries to “validate” its model, said Matherne.

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