From read-only dashboards to spreadsheet collaboration with granular access rules

Schools are great at taking in a lot of data, but often lack the tools to make sense of it. No one knows that better than a group of former educators who came together to form an EdTech Company that specializes in custom data visualization. They build dashboards that allow school districts to analyze their data in an interactive way.

But dashboards are, by their nature, read-only. Data can be interacted with, but adding or editing data has to go back to the data source. Often an educator would look at a custom-built dashboard and have a thought they wanted to share with others. Because the dashboard could not be directly edited, some schools began using Google Docs as a workaround. As a collaborative tool in a familiar format (i.e. a spreadsheet) that made sense. However, this workaround could expose sensitive personal data to parties who should not have access to it.

As a school district’s data partner, the EdTech company needed a way for users to edit data easily, and have it reflected in the dashboard with all users who have access to that view. And the solution had to be as easy to use as a spreadsheet.

Grist brings granular access rules to a spreadsheet

The EdTech Company’s Director of Product set out to find the right tool. It had to be self-managed, fit their stack, be as familiar as a spreadsheet, and give the company full control with granular data permissions and security levels. Solutions like Baserow only met part of their need, meeting the requirement to be spreadsheet-like and self-managed, but offering limited access control. That’s when they found Grist.

Grist fit nicely, especially because we could manage row and column-level permissions. Also the Grist API is really robust for moving data in and out at scale, and very simply. Since Grist will auto-backup to S3 or an Azure blob, anytime an educator makes a change in Grist, that data is extracted and put in our SQL database.

EdTech Company’s Director of Product

A custom solution focused on educator’s experience

Today, the company embeds Grist in an iframe in their custom dashboards, so that the experience is seamless for their end user. With Grist’s SSO integration, educators do not have separate logins for the company’s portal and Grist. In fact, customers do not know they are interacting with Grist at all. To them, this functionality is just another part of the custom portal, not another tool they need to learn. Educators can analyze, add and edit data, all in one place.

Grist's spreadsheet granular access rules limit who can see and edit what data, right in the EdTech company's portal.
A custom data collaboration portal with Grist embedded in a view. Grist’s granular access rules limit who can see and edit what. (Screenshot includes sample data.)

During the pilot of this feature, about 50 end-users had access to Grist through the custom portal. Having tested the data flow, the company plans to scale this functionality to thousands of users.

They also predict there might be a time when certain principals and school admins will need access to the company’s Grist instance, which is white labeled to show the company’s logo in place of Grist’s.

The company's Grist instance where they structure and apply granular access rules to the spreadsheets educators see in the portal. (Screenshot includes sample data.)
The company’s Grist instance where they structure and apply granular access rules to the spreadsheets educators see in the portal. (Screenshot includes sample data.)

Grist as a robust tool in the stack

While the company initially chose Grist for its granular access rules, Grist’s other features have proven useful in addressing a wider range of needs. For example, the team recently received a request with a requirement to print or mail reports. At first they were not sure how to meet the requirement without pouring a lot of developer hours into a whole new set of features. Turns out, Grist had a simple solution: custom widgets.

Grist has given us incredible flexibility to solve data problems and find solutions, whether it is for a small team at the district, or at scale with the entire district staff. We’re really excited about the different ways we can use it going forward.

EdTech Company’s Director of Product