Flagstaff United School District Uses BusinessPLUS and Cognos to Power Decisions

June 13, 2017

Flagstaff United School District needed to find a better way to handle reporting processes that were costing the district time and money. Legacy CDD no longer met the need to utilize big data and streamline efficiencies.

Flagstaff USD chose Cognos Reporting combined with PowerSchool BusinessPLUS. Cognos improves operational efficiency by saving district time and money, and uses data within BusinessPLUS to help administrators make data-driven decisions.

Flagstaff Sr. Systems Administrator, Chris Grove, knew CDD wasn’t meeting the district’s needs. The legacy reporting system left the district running reports with time-consuming and cumbersome processes. “You just can’t pull together big data in CDD and it can’t do dashboards.” The district needed to find a better way to streamline these processes.  “I realized that CDD is quite a powerful tool, but it was sort of limited. There’s a lot of stuff that it can’t do. I’ve been watching for years as PowerSchool tried to decide what to use as a product. When they picked Cognos, I figured that was a really good choice, and it was time to get on board. To move our districts forward, we needed to start using tools like Cognos. Cognos is the future.”


Flagstaff United School District is comprised of 15 schools, 10 elementary schools, two middle schools, and three high schools. The district educates approximately 9,800 students.

Flagstaff USD joined the beta testing of Cognos with PowerSchool BusinessPLUS. “I knew Cognos is the future of reporting, so I wanted to get our district on early and learn it and see if we could get other people on board as well.” Chris Grove believes in the power of Cognos compared to legacy CDD with immediate benefits from employee time savings, flexibility to end-users and in the future through improved data models. “I was very happy to see PowerSchool partner with Capitalize and work on coming up with a whole new way of linking all the data and presenting it. It’s a big step forward. I appreciate all the effort PowerSchool puts into this.”

Time & Money Savings

Since starting with Cognos, Flagstaff has been able to reduce district costs with improved operational efficiency. To decide which direction to go with initial reports during the beta, Chris looked at which reports were run most frequently, and what data he was asked to pull on a regular basis. “I’ve been able to create some interesting reports quickly in Cognos. I pull FTE for teachers and all sorts of things that were hard in CDD, but in Cognos, it turned out to be fairly easy.”

Reporting is often a process that often involves more time than necessary. With Cognos and BusinessPLUS, reporting processes get simplified. Flagstaff USD is taking a time-consuming report and simplifying it with Cognos and BusinessPLUS. “The time and effort report, which is an incredible reporting nightmare for school districts is required when you do federal funding. Each employee that gets paid off of federal funds has to sign an attestation of what they worked each pay period. I was able to do the report in Cognos from BusinessPLUS completely automated, so the people handling that just run a simple report, and all the sheets print out. This will save one employee probably weeks of work in a year. Another report we are currently working with PowerSchool on will save another employee even more.”

Cognos “allows intermediate users an easy way to get in, create reports and grab information from the system. After a short training, users are on their own “writing reports and pulling data. Reporting is super easy to do with Cognos and BusinessPLUS, and it’s greatly reduced the work load on me.”

End-user Power & Training

Chris did an initial training on the Cognos Advanced Workspace with approximately 12 employees in just 90 minutes. “I was able to show people quickly because it’s very visual. You can see all the fields and you don’t have to link them together, since all those relationships are already done by PowerSchool BusinessPLUS. All we do is just drag what they want in and put in sums and sorts and groups. I spent probably a little over an hour training a dozen people how to do that, and they went back and started writing reports. Next up, we’ll do a series of advanced training for users that want to do more because there’s some incredible power there.”

The biggest relief in transitioning to Cognos, is the simplicity behind the transition from CDD. “It’s a big change on how to report. For people like me that have been using CDD forever, it’s actually a rather hard jump to Cognos, but for people that have never used any report writer, learning Cognos has been super easy. I was surprised that the people that are the CDD writers are struggling with it, but the new people pick it up really quick. It’s a whole different way of thinking about things.”

The Future of Big Data

The future is what most beta users are excited for, including Chris Grove and Flagstaff USD. “That’s one reason I like PowerSchool so much – their belief in users and helping them out and moving technology forward. I’m really excited about two years down the road, what this will look like. I think it’s going to be great. I can’t imagine some of the stuff the dashboard will be able to do to help people make informed decisions. Certainly that’s the big attraction for Cognos, the ability to really present information in graphical and much more interesting ways than CDD. The dashboards are incredibly powerful. I’ve also seen some other companies’ reporting analysis in Cognos that pulls information together from all over the place, which is another very powerful feature that CDD didn’t have. The ideal situation for our district is to link up to the student system, BusinessPLUS, the tenant system or other software, and pull the data to make some really informed decisions once you get the big picture.”

Administrators need essential district data at the ready, and in a way that’s easy to understand. That’s where using Cognos with BusinessPLUS comes in for school districts.

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“That's one reason I like PowerSchool so much is their belief in users and helping them out and moving technology forward.”

Chris Grove
Sr. Systems Administrator | Flagstaff United School District
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