IRIS Software Group has developed a new unified platform to collate school and academy groups’ data across the UK. We spoke to Nicholas Clark, senior product manager, and David Draper, product manager, to hear about their experience developing this analytics service.

IRIS provides intelligent, integrated software that allows professionals to improve the way they work. It automates core business processes to quickly solve problems and provide actionable insight. It has a large education portfolio and has developed a new way of consolidating data from different schools with the Snowflake Data Cloud.

We spoke to Nicholas Clark, senior product manager, and David Draper, product manager, to learn how IRIS developed its new data platform, IRIS Central. They told us what made them decide to partner with Snowflake and how Snowflake’s platform has helped them transform the way schools analyze their data at a time when the UK education system is undergoing significant transformation.

A changing education landscape requiring unified data analysis

“There’s an academization agenda in the UK at the moment which is asking most schools to academize by 2030,” explained Draper. “As schools in the UK become groups, trusts, or multi-Academy trusts and have a need to analyze data in one central place.”

Traditionally, extracting data had been a very manual task. Trusts needed to bring data into one central place where it could be easily analyzed without the need to spend lots of time  using spreadsheets and other tools to collate reports. And they need up-to-date data so they can make the best decisions for their staff, pupils, and parents.

IRIS wanted to help its school groups get the most out of their data by creating a service that could consolidate data from multiple sources and sites, giving leadership insights across their entire group for better decision-making.

“We know schools need data in one place to analyze it and make good decisions that will impact their students,” explained Draper. “And as a company, we have the solutions for schools and trusts to run every aspect of their day. IRIS Central ties the data together.”

A flexible, secure platform for scalable development

With the UK’s academization agenda well under way, IRIS knew it needed a comprehensive solution, fast. 

“We wanted to do something relatively quickly,” said Draper. “We didn’t want to spend a lot of time making it work with more traditional solutions. We also have a lot of customers with a lot of historical data they needed to move to an analytics tool, and we wanted something that would scale with us.”

Clark and Draper spent time looking through a variety of different solutions to test the market, selecting Snowflake’s platform for its flexibility and scale.

“What prompted us to consider Snowflake is that it’s a new modern data cloud solution,” Clark explained. “And it offered what we were looking for—flexibility and security. We wanted a solution that didn’t need a big team managing the database. We wanted something that we could just run with. Our product was developed in four months, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without Snowflake.”

Draper added: “We’ve built, in a very short amount of time, a product that brings together data from schools‘ individual systems and puts it into one place where trust leadership can analyze and make good decisions about their data. And enable the students to improve what they’re doing in classrooms and beyond.”

Giving schools valuable insight today and tomorrow

After developing IRIS Central, Draper also gave us a preview of IRIS’ plans for the future.

“IRIS Central supports Trusts in moving their focus and time away from the arduous collecting and organizing of data, to using it to make critical decisions, so they can drive impactful change as they embark on their growth journey,” Draper explained.

“With easy to access and near real-time intelligence, IRIS Central presents an opportunity to fundamentally change the way trusts are managed as businesses.” 

“The next logical step is to enable trusts to build their own analytics based on data they may have across a range of IRIS education products. Everything we do is centered around reducing administrative burdens and empowering trust leaders to make better decisions for the good of students, staff, individual schools, and the trust as a whole.” 

“We’re also looking to introduce AI and ML to really help teachers, leadership, and trust leadership understand where to focus their efforts,” Draper added. “And we’re working with a community of trusts to build that in a way that works for them.”

“The key to that journey is our partnership with Snowflake. We’ve had a very personal service from Snowflake in terms of the relationships that we’ve built with the people inside the organization. And we really hope that continues. They’ve certainly helped us grow and push the boundaries of what we can do more quickly.”

Clark’s top three takeaways from partnering with Snowflake

Clark told us the top three benefits he’s experienced from IRIS’ partnership with Snowflake.

#1 A range of tools making product expansion easy

“There are a lot of internal tools we’ve really started to utilize. We’ve also looked at external functions. So, we’ve been able to expand the product very quickly, not just to our data and working with our customer data, but essentially other data that we weren’t expecting—such as crime and COVID-19 data.”

#2 Great support for a small team

“We’ve actually been able to start with a small team, and we haven’t needed a database manager to check it’s fast and efficient. Snowflake does that for us.”

#3 Fast onboarding and automation of time-consuming tasks

“The time it takes to onboard our new customers to the product has been very quick. And we’ve automated all those pipelines, which has actually taken away the labor costs we started off with. That’s been a benefit for us.”