Finding the Consummate CAD Administrator

When it comes to deciding who will administer your organization’s engineering software, you want to make sure you have the right person for the job. While each candidate brings to the table their own set of skills, these skills may not make for a successful administrator. For example, a plumber may be adept in their trade but they may not be the best person to wire up your home.

An organization can have many different types of software, such as CAD, data management, electrical, publishing and more. The first decision a company has to make is to determine who will administrate each of these applications. Will one person administrate them all? Or will there be one person or group that will handle each piece of software.

The decision you make will likely be influenced by the availability of manpower. But keep in mind that it can be hard to find someone that has the knowledge to administer all these different applications. A person that specializes in electrical may not have the skills to administrate CAD. Also, the workload to administer all these systems may be too great for a single person and can result in burnout, applications not being administrated correctly and/or your administrator exiting your organization.

While it may not be possible to have an individual for each application, a compromise may be to have one administrator that handles a number of similar products. For instance, if your data management software and your electrical software both use the same database backbone (i.e., Microsoft SQL), then your electrical person may be able administrate both of those pieces of software. If you do mainly mechanical design, your CAD administrator may be the best person to also administrate your data management software. Generally, some additional training is required.

What should be avoided is having an administrator who lacks solid knowledge of the software they will be administrating. Having someone assigned to administrate software they have little knowledge of will lead to frustration, a long learning curve and perhaps the loss of the administrator. Further, it is likely that software which is foreign to an administrator will not be configured or supported optimally.

This is not to say that that your electrical expert cannot bridge the gap and also be able to administrate CAD successfully. This depends on the innate ability of the potential administrator to learn a new discipline. You will need to provide time for your administrator to develop these skills. Yes, experience is good, but a learn-it-on-go approach can lead to bad practices. Most software sellers or resellers offer training. On the whole, you should strive to ensure your administrator is an expert in the software they will support.

An honest appraisal of a potential administrator’s ability to learn needs to happen. Some people learn better than others. The user with the most experience is not always the best candidate to administrate your applications. Generally, it’s the people who are more comfortable with change that make the best administrators.

Each piece of software has a periphery of related software, systems and processes. While your administrator may not need to be an expert in each one of these areas, they should have a good working understanding of those segments. As an example, while your data management administrator may not need to be an expert on networks, they should have a good understanding of how networks work. Your electrical and data management administrators will benefit from a general understanding of databases. Understanding of hardware can help your CAD administrator understand and evaluate performance. Carefully analyzing these peripheral items connected to your software will help you evaluate potential administrator candidates and help lay out a training path for the selected candidate.

An administrator will rarely work on their own. A successful administrator will need to work with team members, other teams, contractors and vendors. These include but are not limited to end users, IT, management and contractors. An administrator needs to know or be able to determine the people that they will support and who will support them.

The administrator needs to know of or learn the software vendor’s contacts, such as tech support, training and sales, for all the software that they will support. The administrator will also need to know which methods are used to communicate with the vendor, where to locate sources of vendor information (knowledgebase articles, blogs, channels etc.) and how to access bug fixes and escalation procedures if and when they are required.

Because your administrator will need to interact with several different contacts, the administrator needs to have good communication skills. Since information can come from multiple sources, your administrator needs to have good organizational skills in order to document and prioritize this information. In a very real sense, a good administrator is a good project manager.

An administrator will often need to involve several disciplines in a project. For example, a project involving IT, software vendors and end-users in a software update will require an administrator with good leadership skills and the ability to delegate responsibility. The administrator must communicate effectively with various groups in order to coordinate their efforts.

Much of the information that your administrator requires is available online. Accessing this online material is often the fastest way to find a solution. An efficient administrator needs to be methodical in how they perform their research and organized on how they compile it. Being comfortable working online is a must.

Being proactive is key to preventing issues. An adept administrator will consistently scour sources to look for methods to improve the use of the software they are responsible for. Many software vendors offer webinars. Your administrator should make a point of attending the webinars that are relevant to the work of their users.

But what may be the most important attribute for a good administrator is a thorough knowledge of their company’s structures and processes. This knowledge is important. This is learned knowledge, not an innate skill.

Often, the person with the most experience is picked to be an administrator. While experience is important, such a person may lack the soft skills covered previously in this article. Processes can be learned and contacts can be developed but soft skills are more difficult to acquire. Don’t let experience trump soft skills with your administrator candidate.

Also, those who are deeply familiar with your company’s structures and processes may be resistant to changing those systems for which they have become the “go-to person.” Or, change may be something that is outside their comfort level. An important part of being an adroit administrator is the drive to find new methods and tools to make a system more efficient. Along with that drive, this administrator needs to have the skills to ferret out these efficiencies. As noted earlier, these skills can rarely be learned.

This does not mean that the company CAD guru does not have something to offer. It may well be that this person possesses the skills I have already mentioned but even if they don’t, they can still be of great benefit to your administrator. The guru can be teamed up with your administrator to take advantage of their combined skills and knowledge.

Another partner that your administrator should have good working relations with is your IT department. There are many aspects of software that will require IT involvement. A competent administrator will know when to solicit IT’s help and provide the information that IT will need. There will also be others with whom your administrator will need to interact with. This is why communication and people skills are so important to an administrator.

To help make a quality administrator, an administrator needs the training to learn the tools they will be using. An administrator will also need the time to grow into their role. Investing in developing an administrator will pay large dividends.

In many companies, administering software is a sideline at best. Many companies believe their software vendor’s support team will be the de facto administrators and personal trainers. But as resellers freely admit, they generally will not administer software on a day-to-day basis.

Management and users should be careful not to overload administrators. A well-trained and experienced administrator is too valuable to lose. If your administrator feels overwhelmed, they may start looking for employment elsewhere. Splitting tasks between administrators or making assistants available can help lighten the load. An overload, once detected, is reason to consider a second administrator. Having a backup is good insurance in case one administrator is sick or leaves your organization.

For larger projects, such as server moves and software updates, you may want to consider contracting an organization.  Most resellers offer these services and have a great deal of experience with those projects. They will likely complete the task faster with less down time, and the end result will likely be better which also results in less down time and less frustration.

The benefits of a good administrator are plentiful and varied. Spend time choosing and developing your administrator and your engineers and designers will enjoy long lasting and far-reaching benefits.

About the Author

Joe Medeiros as an Elite Applications Consultant at TRIMECH, a premier SOLIDWORKS reseller servicing customers throughout North America, offers SOLIDWORKS customers expertise in implementing and using DASSAULT SOLIDWORKS solutions.

Joe has been involved in many aspects of the DASSAULT SOLIDWORKS product family since 1996 and as an award-winning blogger, he regularly writes about DASSAULT SOLIDWORKS solutions.

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