‘Who is That Masked Man?’ – The CAD Administrator

It’s a feeling I’ve had from time to time while trying to justify my existence to different people and companies. The reality is that many firms have tried to go down this path, in one way or another, only to end up with the wrong person and approach and be sworn off employing the right person for the job.

So, what should you be looking for when it comes to a CAD Administrator and why are they necessary?

Firstly, CAD and engineering software should not get the IT treatment. What I mean by this is that it’s not good enough to simply install a package and let users fend for themselves, something I’ve experienced far too often. CAD Administrators need to work with the design team to help deliver an interface and tools that better serve the company and what it is they are trying to achieve. I’m yet to see any software vendor that does this ‘out of the box’.

Not only should the admin know the software, but the processes that go with it. This is why I’ve always had a preference for admins who are ex-designers\draftsman. An understanding of the design process helps when it comes to customization, printing, office standards and so on. Having a background working with the tool also means that an admin is a better teacher and understands the package at a deeper level.

Your CAD Admin is a part of the engineering team and should be treated as such. They are 'NOT' IT people, though should have a good enough knowledge of IT issues to be able to work well with the IT group. This might include testing and recommending hardware specs, understanding printer issues, understanding how the CAD system would be affected by cloud solutions and so on. Later this might expand to testing and recommending the deployment of other software solutions for the engineering team.

Future proofing is critical at any level of business and Engineering Systems is no different. Admins should be proactive and get involved with beta-testing of products so that issues can be identified in advance. I set myself to a 5 year plan that I update as necessary to include known issues, lessons learnt, versioning, major and minor updates, new software and hardware rollouts and so on. This helps identify issues of manning, timing and project implementation. Ask to see your admins plan and understand what it means to the business.

Why waste your CAD resource? Admins should be part of any project start-up or planning to identify issues of builds, software required, support etc. Where possible, DON’T DEVELOP ON THE FLY. I’ve seen far too many projects end up with issues, delays and more because they have tried to develop far too much during the project when they should be concentrating on design and modelling. New processes should be developed and tested before being rolled out on any project.

The single biggest issue I have as an admin when I move into a new firm to help them is lack of any existing documentation. ALL admins should document their builds at several levels, the first of which is the more technical Systems Admin Manual. This should spell out how the system works, where on the network the build resides as well as breakdown of code, workflows and so on. A good admin should be able to come in and take over using this information instead of having to reverse engineer something or worse still, start from scratch. User Guides are a must and take the form of the traditional manual or a help file that can be delivered with the CAD build interface. The one advantage of the help file system is that it can be accessed by users at any time if they get lost. Help files should also include Tips and Hints for users on how better to use the software.

Other things I’ve found handy for users, admin and management are innovation registers, trouble report registers, package user guides, in-house training and user group meetings. Any way you look at it, your CAD Administrator should be an active and integral part of your business. How do you find yours, or is it time you had a rethink on what you need?

More soon.