Office Tech: A Public Gold Mine

Until recently, access to one of the biggest treasure troves of corporate data was a pain to use.

In an information economy, it's impossible for companies to flourish without quick and easy access to, well, information. Until recently, access to one of the biggest treasure troves of corporate data–the thousands of public documents filed every day with securities regulators and posted on the SEDAR website–was neither quick nor easy. But XP Innovations, a small Toronto-based tech firm, is looking to change that.

XP's new web-based service, Disclosurenet, allows clients to quickly and easily mine the data in every SEDAR document. “It's like Google for Canadian public company documents,” says Stephane Jasmin, XP Innovations' president. SEDAR's website has very limited search capabilities. In the past, those looking for a document faced the laborious task of wading through thousands of pages in the hopes of finding what they were hunting for. But with Disclosurenet, clients merely type in a word or phrase and the software will find every document in the SEDAR database that matches the search terms.

You can also set up the service to instantly alert you when a search term appears in public documents or even to run comparisons of documents and highlight the differences. But some are also using the service to gain competitive intelligence. With a few clicks of the mouse, an accounting firm can access billing information that now must be disclosed, and instantly find out how much the competition is charging. Other businesses have used the software to look for help during a crisis. One small mining firm, for instance, saved itself a $1,500 legal search fee by using the program to find how another mining company handled an explosion in one of its properties.

The software was originally designed in partnership with Canada's major accounting firms, which require instant and easy access to corporate documents. XP Innovations currently has more than 130 clients, including not only the country's largest accounting firms but a growing number of lawyers and investment houses. “Without this service, we would just take a shotgun approach to looking for documents,” says Monique Rabideau, a partner at Fogler, Rubinoff, a Toronto-based corporate law firm. “We could spend hours hunting and there was still the danger you would miss stuff.”

The service currently costs between $3,500 and $75,000 per month, depending on the number and types of services enabled. That's too rich for most individual investors, but XP is considering rolling out a cheaper home version. “We are already getting requests from people that use it at work and want the same kind of access for their own individual investing,” says Jasmin.