Almost four years ago, Financial Executives International CEO Colleen Cunningham listed conversion to XBRL–the interactive data format known as extensible business reporting language–among the top 10 issues on which CFOs need to keep current. At the time, the controller's office at United Technologies Corp. (UTC), the maker of Pratt & Whitney jet engines and Otis elevators, hadn't even heard of XBRL. "It was almost an epiphany," says John Stantial, assistant controller and director of financial reporting for the Hartford, Conn.-based multinational. "Once in it, we asked, 'Do we sit on the sidelines like everybody else?' If we think XBRL might be coming down the path as a requirement, should we continue to work with it?"

United Technologies decided to embrace XBRL. With business in 186 countries and 100 different general ledger (GL) platforms, the company has been pushing XBRL into its consolidated global reporting system. "We built our internal processes and learned as much as we could about the tool," Stantial says. "It's a single system and Web enabled, and we can push it out through the Web. We're working backwards up the funnel. If and when an SEC mandate comes, it would be a non-issue for us."

More than that, mastering XBRL has turned into cost savings at United Technologies, reducing the time spent preparing quarterly reports by 20%. "We could literally free up a person over the course of a year, and that was just one deliverable," says Stantial. The assistant controller also talks up improving data quality and integration as advantages with XBRL that can make a sizable difference when companies are searching out acquisition prospects are working to incorporate a new enterprise. But what Stantial is breathlessly waiting for is the ability to use the tagged information in a whole host of government filings as well as internal management and benchmarking efforts. Until it becomes widely used, however, it's hard for companies like UTC to harness XBRL's full potential. "That's why we've been anxious for the SEC to mandate XBRL," Stantial says.

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