Web service to bring financial data into Office

Microsoft Corp. recently launched a .Net Web service in association with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and The Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. that will enable investors and analysts to access financial data stored on the Internet and analyze that data using Microsoft Office.

The Web service makes use of an industry standard data format called XBRL (Extensible Business Reporting Language), which is being developed as a standard way to represent data in business and financial reports. XBRL is a schema based on XML (Extensible Markup Language) and was designed with the intent of eliminating paper financial reports and replacing them with digital reports that can be delivered over the Internet.

The trio launched the Web service as a pilot program. It is based on Microsoft’s .Net technology and allows a user to access over the Internet the quarterly and annual reports, also known as 10K and 10Q reports, of 20 semiconductor companies, as well as Microsoft’s financial reports. The financial data can then be displayed in an Excel document using Excel 2000, or Excel 2002, the version of the software included in Office XP.

“It uses Excel as a front end, or smart client, to consume the data,” said Rob Blake, group program manager of finance and administration IT at Microsoft.

PricewaterhouseCoopers was responsible for putting the financial reports in XBRL format. Nasdaq is hosting that data on its Web site at www.nasdaq.com/xbrl. To access the data, Microsoft designed the .Net Web service that will pull the XBRL data from the Web and deliver it to an Excel document. The service is called the Excel Investor Assistant, according to Microsoft.

“It will allow an analyst to compare specific data with similar data from quarters past, or from other companies,” said David Jaffe, lead product manager for Office.

Through the .Net Web service, users can automatically analyze financial data rather than having to manually input data into a spreadsheet. For example, a user could automatically compare the total revenue for all 20 semiconductor companies by quarter and have that displayed in an Excel document.

Microsoft, Nasdaq and PricewaterhouseCoopers all are members of the consortium that is developing and maintaining XBRL. The consortium has attracted nearly 170 members, each of which deals with financial data to some degree. There are no major efforts under way to create a competing data format for XBRL, according to Microsoft.

One benefit of having a standard data type for delivering business reporting data over the Internet is that “there’s not as much distortion of company reports through third parties. The information is exactly how the company intended it to be,” Jaffe said.

However, there have yet to be any major applications developed that make use of XBRL, he added. The pilot program was launched mainly to show what companies could do with the standard data type.