A consortium led by IBM is trying to promote a flavour of XML as a new standard for risk reporting.

IBM's Data Governance Council, a group of 50 large financial companies and other organisations worldwide, has launched an initiative aimed at persuading the industry to adopt XBRL (extensible business reporting language) as a standard for risk reporting.

XBRL, a flavour of XML, uses identifying tags to describe various data elements within a financial document, such as "total revenue," making them more easily searched, aggregated and analysed.

The council wants to build a common "taxonomy of risk" using XBRL, a move that would help standardise risk-measurement worldwide, providing more transparency into the global economy and helping avoid widescale fiscal calamity like that gripping the world today.

The council is not attempting to foist a preconceived vision on the industry, said its chairman, Steve Adler.

"We're proposing a standards process. XBRL is just a tool, a blank slate, an empty canvas we seek to paint. In order to paint it, we invite people to contribute," Adler said. The council hopes to be able to propose a specification within one year, he added.

IBM clearly sees a business opportunity in backing XBRL, suggested Redmonk analyst Michael Coté.

"If an interchange format or XML specification is first made into a standard, preferably open, and then required to use for one or more industries, you've just created a market to service both the switch over to that standard and then ongoing maintenance," he said. "Also, as an ISV, you have a wider market to sell to: namely, everyone in those industries who're required to use that standard."

IBM and other tech companies seem to prefer open standards and have tooled their businesses around them, Cote added.

"In the long run, an open and/or industry standard is probably less risky for both vendors and customers because you're not dependent on one provider for that the implementation, or control, of that standard," he said.