Data standards are critical to streamlining the financial reporting process, according to industry sources. And a new add-in to Microsoft Office 2003--to be released this summer by the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant--may be the missing link in the concept of "straight-through reporting."The Microsoft add-in will provide XBRL support within Word and Excel, and it will enable companies to automate manual tasks associated with using Word and Excel for financial reporting, says Mike Willis, founding chairman of XBRL International and partner at New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"The physical representation of data in an Excel spreadsheet is meaningful today," Willis says. "So when you insert a column or a row, you throw the macros off." With the Microsoft Office 2003 XBRL add-in, that cell is a physical representation for a data definition that’s in the back-end.

Essentially, Microsoft's add-in will turn Excel and Word into both a consumer and producer of XBRL data, Willis explains. "That means cutting and pasting of data can be automated--bec ause an ERP system or another Excel worksheet can spit out data, which can then be automatically consumed by another application or another Excel worksheet." That's a big step in straight-through reporting, he says.

Therese Rutkowski, Managing Editor

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