Canary Wharf College


Originally an independent free school for children aged between 4 to 10 years old, Canary Wharf College has since developed into a three school Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), extending their ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rated education to secondary and further education students.

This case study will detail the experiences and benefits which Peter Young (Chief Finance Officer) and Hiren Shah (Finance Manager) have encountered since the decision was made to review their college's Financial Management System.

Time for Change

In 2014, Canary Wharf College received approval by the Department of Education to convert into a MAT and open a second primary school located at their Isle of Dogs campus. During the conversion process, Peter took the opportunity to assess his finance department to ensure that it is best prepared to service additional schools. Peter’s assessment included a review of the Financial Management System used by Canary Wharf College. Operating Sage 50 at the time, Peter recognised that their Financial Management System was not suited to handle a MAT structure; therefore he began to explore the market to find an appropriate system.

“Knowing that we were adding schools to our trust meant that it was imperative for us to review our Financial Management System, we were using Sage 50 at the time and I recognised that there was no way that Sage 50 would be able to support multiple schools or our vision for future expansion”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer

The Selection Process

Peter assembled a list of key requirements which any new Financial Management System had to adhere to. Firstly, the new system needed the power to handle multiple ledgers from multiple schools within an easy to use interface. Another key requirement was for the new system to feature an education specific reporting suite which could reduce the time spent on producing statutory reports. Finally, the new system must add value to the finance function by increasing the control, accuracy and security of financial data whilst lifting the burden off the finance staff at Canary Wharf College.

Once the criteria was set, Peter sent out system requirements to numerous Financial Management System providers before inviting the appropriate organisations in for a demonstration.

“We viewed presentations from Civica, Sage as well as IRIS Financials. After careful deliberation comparing the features and benefits of each system, we invited IRIS Financials back for some detailed questioning on the system before the finance committee and governing board made the final decision and appointed IRIS Financials as our new Financial Management System provider. We found that IRIS was dedicated to the education sector and we had the confidence in IRIS to handle our needs for the long term future, including, ensuring that our reports are produced to the latest standards”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer.

Why IRIS Financials?

The selection process ensured that Peter, the finance committee and the governing board had all of the information required for a final decision. Several factors were considered when selecting the new system, Peter provided us with a recap on why Canary Wharf College decided to choose IRIS over other providers. “Essentially IRIS ticked all of the boxes in terms of features, functionality and flexibility to incorporate additional schools. A big plus for me was that you do not require accounting knowledge to use the IRIS Financials system, I am able to roll the system out to staff with minimal interference which is a valuable benefit for any growing trust”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer

Post Implementation Support

Peter and his finance team which includes Hiren Shah (Finance Manager) have made the most out of the post-implementation support available to them. With any new system, there is the need to further develop your knowledge and skills with the system; we asked both Peter and Hiren how the different IRIS support has benefited them both.

“The introduction of Zendesk has been great because it enables us to resolve minor issues with a quick search. IRIS is a dynamic system, it is difficult to have all of the manuals to hand but Zendesk provides us with an easy way to find relevant manuals, answering many of our queries without the need to call support”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer

IRIS Financials hold termly regional user days with the aim of providing users with a chance to get the most out of their system, learn about any new features, gain hints and tips and share experiences with other users. Hiren Shah attended the spring 2015 user day in London.

“There is no doubt about it; the user day really helped me gain valuable information on future development and getting the most out of our system”. Hiren Shah, Finance Manager

In November 2014, IRIS Launched an online education forum for users to discuss with peers on all things IRIS, Peter is an avid user of the forum and has seen great benefit from the platform. “The forum is also helpful, not just to answer your own queries but as a training resource too. I can dip in and out of it and gain useful information from other users of the system”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer

The IRIS Experience

Canary Wharf College has experienced a huge improvement in efficiency within the finance department since implementing IRIS Financials, Peter and his team have streamlined processes in areas such as reporting, purchasing and document posting freeing up time that was unobtainable whilst using Sage.

“The data input into the system is now easily auditable and accurately mapped to produce reports conforming to EFA and SORP standards, taking away the need for manual data manipulation”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer

“There was a backlog of months’ worth of documents which required posting into the system, it took me 2 weeks to get up to date using IRIS, this would take other systems a lot longer to do”. Hiren Shah, Finance Manager


– Straight forward interface which required no accountancy knowledge
– Delegation of purchasing and budget control to different departments
– Comprehensive reporting suite improving efficiency

Future Plans

– Integrate the newly implemented Orovia budgeting system with IRIS Financials
– Expand IRIS into schools located on multiple sites
– Develop the use of the workflow feature
– Improve knowledge and ability with the Systemies
– Streamlined & auditable accounting


We closed by asking Peter whether he would recommend IRIS Financials to other schools, colleges and trusts. “Absolutely, the system is great, it has added value for us already and we have some great plans with the system lined up, I would recommend it with no hesitation”. Peter Young, Chief Finance Officer

If you’d like to see how IRIS Financials can help your school or multi-academy trust, contact us today.