78456617 “Information,” the old cliche goes, “is power.”

What a crock. Information isn't power. In its rawest form, information is just … data.

Give that information context, though, so that it tells a story, paints a picture, helps us make better decisions — that's power. Go one step further and make that information available anytime, anywhere, in any format, and you can rule the world.

So says David Stephenson. The principal of Stephenson Strategies and author of “Data Dynamite: How Liberating Information Will Transform Our World,” Stephenson drew some interesting conclusions about our data-centric world during a recent phone conversation. For instance:

  • We're data hoarders. We need to be data liberators. Ours is a data-hungry world. The problem, says Stephenson, is that once we get our hands on some data, we lock it away and guard it with our lives. And there it sits in our data warehouses, doing us little to no good. “Data should automatically be available to those who need it, when and where they need it, in a form they can actually use, and with the freedom to use it as they choose,” he said.
  • The social movement gives depth to data. Can you crowdsource data? Absolutely, says Stephenson. “No matter how brilliant an individual might be,” he says, “I would argue that, almost without exception, you will end up with a richer, more nuanced interpretation of data when you have multiple people looking at it at the same time.”
  • XBRL is the “secret sauce.” You just knew this conversation would get around to XBRL sooner or later, didn't you? With good reason. “If I gave you the number 6, in the abstract, what does that mean?” says Stephenson. “Is it somebody's age? A street address? But if you bracket that with, say, the XBRL size tag, it now has context and meaning. Just as important, that data can then flow in real time anywhere that those same tags are found. We no longer have to go searching for data.”

The MACPA team attended the 2011 XBRL U.S. Conference in Nashville recently, and we came back loaded with content that we'll be sharing with you over the next few weeks.

Before we do that, though, Stephenson's comments help set the stage perfectly. Listen to my conversation with him in its entirety.

Subscribe to our podcast here, or search for “CPA Spotlight” in iTunes.

Want to learn more?
These MACPA programs offer more details about the future of data:

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