St Thomas More Catholic School


St Thomas More Roman Catholic Academy is one of the most sought after schools within the Tyne and Wear region due to the consistent high level of achievements which is reflected within its Outstanding Ofsted status across all categories. A longstanding reputation of excellence coupled with security as a large entity has made St Thomas More a perfect candidate to become a Multi Academy Trust (MAT). A feeder primary school of the Academy (Sacred Heart Catholic School) reached out to join the trust which has since snowballed, with many more primary schools looking to join the Trust.

In this case study, Jim Thomson – Director of Finance and Corporate Services, explains the reasoning behind switching from Sage 200 as the Trust’s Financial Management Solution to IRIS Financials and the benefits they have realised since going live.

Time for Change

Six months after converting to a MAT, it was time for St Thomas More to move forward and replace their existing Sage 200 system with a more modern system that better fitted their business needs and practices. St Thomas More were looking for a Financial Management System with certain key features, importantly, any new system had to be easy to use and easy to maintain. The ideal solution was one that would allow them to maintain a single central chart of accounts that catered for all the operations (schools) and produced consolidated accounts instantly. Jim went on to comment, “consolidation was something that challenged our previous system, it was manual, time-consuming and error-prone, we, therefore, needed a solution that solved this major problem”. Other problem areas with Sage 200 included errors with the business intelligence software, web portal purchase ordering issues, incomplete VAT 126 reporting and flawed results when producing some management reports. “One of the fundamental shortfalls was that whenever you tried to produce a balance sheet with comparatives using the business intelligence tool it didn’t balance, a basic requirement which couldn’t be met” said Jim.

Having concluded that a change of software was needed, St Thomas More engaged a firm of consultants to search the market and draw up a shortlist of suitable providers. Several potential vendors were shortlisted including Sage, Aggresso, Iris Exchequer, Corero as well as IRIS Financials. They were all invited to submit proposals for the supply of the new Financial Management Solution and make presentations to the team at St Thomas More, “they were all asked to concentrate on how their system would solve our specific problems” commented Thomson.

Why IRIS Financials

The selection process undertaken by St Thomas More was very thorough due to their previous experience with Sage, Jim Thomson gives us his take on the final stages of the selection process “Each of the financial software providers had their pluses and minuses, however, IRIS Financials really impressed us with their presentation and knowledge, they were able to show clearly how they could solve our issues and help us achieve our objectives. We also took feedback from other academies that had implemented IRIS Financials, which gave us the reassurance we needed so with that and the functionality of the software, we came to the conclusion that IRIS Financials was the right software solution for us and chose it”.

The Implementation Process

Like any project, there were some minor issues along the way which the IRIS Financials team worked to resolve in tandem with the St Thomas More team. Jim commented “The people who delivered the training and consultancy have been outstanding in terms of their technical expertise, knowledge and their ability to empathise with the users. All of the people I have met so far, from the initial demonstrations to the consultants delivering the training, to the guys on the IRIS support desk, have been total stars”.

The Roll Out and Support

Rolling a new system out amidst a MAT conversion was always going to be a challenge, compounded by the legacy of poor quality data from the previous Sage system, the rollout process relied on the previous experience attained by IRIS. Given that IRIS has implemented its financial system into over 1,500 academies, there is a tried a tested implementation process that is made clear to all parties from the outset. Both St Thomas More and IRIS Financials’ teams worked cohesively to ensure a smooth changeover, Jim Thomson was fully involved during this period

“I think the important thing to ask is whether we feel we have made the right decision? Absolutely we did, I honestly believe that we have made the right choice. We have bottomed out all of our previous Sage related frustrations and are starting to climb back up and make real progress again as a Finance team.”

The change from Sage 200 to IRIS Financials has made the Finance Department of St Thomas More much more efficient and has streamlined many key processes. Our VAT 126 reporting is a great example of the improved efficiency. “The VAT 126 reporting function actually works great with IRIS Financials, with Sage, to compile a month’s VAT 126 report for each of the schools took weeks and up to 20 man hours to identify the duplications. However, with IRIS Financials I have it down to only two hours”, commented Jim.

The team at IRIS Financials are still in regular contact with Jim and his team following the implementation, the support service played a big part in ensuring a smooth ‘post-live’ transition. When asked about the ‘post-live‘ experience with IRIS Financials, Jim commented “Most of the communication post-live was with the IRIS staff on the support desk and they were fantastic, they are very very good. I can’t speak highly enough of them.”

Future Plans

The primary objective and short-term plan for St Thomas More was to fix the problems encountered with the Sage 200 system as it was causing huge inefficiencies in business processes and eating up many hours of valuable time. Future plans for St Thomas More are to utilise the IRIS Financials system to its full potential through the use of other application modules and more advanced reporting functions. Since the implementation, St Thomas More has switched their cloud services to PS Cloud and have reaped the rewards of consolidating their Financial Management System and Cloud services onto one provider.

As the MAT grows, IRIS Financials will play a major part in the expansion, ensuring business processes are optimised, time is not wasted on everyday tasks and accurate consolidated management information is available in a timely manner.

Summary of Benefits

During the short period working with IRIS Financials, Jim Thomson and the finance team at St Thomas More have noticed some key benefits in their duties, Jim pointed out a few of these:

– IRIS Financials has made life a lot easier, significantly improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Finance Department, this has resulted in Jim having the opportunity to utilise the finance team to its full capacity.
– The impact of using the web portal has been considerable, it is important to delegate and channel authorisation within the rules of the business and the web portal helps us do this. It also streamlines the whole purchasing process.
– Going paperless will reduce expenditure, St Thomas More has several hundred large cupboards to hold A4 folders of financial documents. IRIS Financials has a HMRC recognised format therefore the use of paper records will phase out and reduce capital costs for filing cabinets and cupboards, space to store these, not to mention the time and effort spent in organising and finding misfiled documents.
– The training programme and support service provided by the IRIS Financials team was top class; it helped gain confidence in  using the system which is a new experience for the finance team at St Thomas More.

Finally we asked Jim Thomson if he would recommend IRIS Financials, to which he replied “I have no hesitation in recommending IRIS Financials to other academies as it meets all our needs.”

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