#AwesomeAdmin: Time to Reconsider the Role Salesforce Administrators Play?

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Sometimes, what we Admins used to do (and get away with!) is no longer Salesforce best practice.

Things change and evolve and we have a responsibility to keep up. This is as true for Salesforce as with anything else.

“Prodly”

This article has two aims:

  1. To understand the past, and where we are now. Why what used to be accepted practice no longer is, and how we can move forward.
  2. To share some good analogies. Most people think pictorially and it’s a vital tool in the communications skill set; it’s why graphics matter. So, I’ll be using an analogy that anyone and everyone can understand: a place to live.

Join me as I take a trip back in time, starting where it all began in 1999, when Salesforce had the vision to be “A World-Class Internet Company for Sales Force Automation.”

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Back in the Day: 1999

Salesforce launched in 1999, with just a few objects like Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities. Pop back to Classic and have a look at the object order: you’ll be able to spot the fairly higgledy-piggledy order of creation that started the journey of the product we know and love today.

At this time, you could pretty much do anything you wanted without fear…the truth is that there wasn’t much complexity. If you got something wrong you could undo it fairly easily. If Salesforce were a building at this time, we would be thinking “Shed”. Low maintenance, low complexity, easy to set up and gets cold in the winter. At this stage, our #AwesomeAdmin is like an apprentice builder who can quite happily knock up a rudimentary structure and add a few nice-to-haves like a window and shelves.

Right about now, Cloud Computing is a fairly futuristic concept, and potential customers are more interested in questions like “What is the Cloud?” or “Is the Cloud safe to use?!” than the specifics of product development.

10(ish) Years Later: 2011

I joined the ecosystem in 2011, so that’s where my experience really starts. By this time Salesforce was more of a house and the #AwesomeAdmin a fully fledged builder, capable of adding a lovely little extension for that gorgeous kitchen you wanted so much. The house can have multiple rooms built adjacent to each other and connections can be made between them (e.g. custom and junction objects).

The AppExchange has arrived which can put in the equivalent of a prefabricated kitchen overnight, but even then, our #AwesomeAdmin builder still needs to check that the new prefab kitchen will align with the existing water, gas and electricity connections.

In terms of marketing, Cloud Computing is now du jour, and Salesforce realise there are a lot of #AwesomeAdmin builders out there that may need some help learning how to maintain what they’ve built and what they can do with the new building materials Salesforce provides.

The first “Admin” branded user group* and first ever Salesforce-related #AwesomeAdmin tweet appeared in 2014.

2019: Meet Ruth

Can it be only 2 years ago that Ruth came into existence, arriving on the 30th May 2019?

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To quote from the above blog:

“If you’re a big-picture thinker who loves digging deep into business problems to find long-term solutions that help companies grow, you might just be a Salesforce Technical Architect in the making. And you’re in luck! Ruth the Architect is now here to be your guide.”

No doubt there were Architects before Ruth, but just as Salesforce previously defined the role of Salesforce Administrator, they now created a definition and identity for Salesforce Architects. The path to CTA was now clear, with actionable steps to get there, and the difference between Administrators and Architects is highlighted.

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Ruth exemplifies where we had found ourselves to be.

Back to our house analogy: Our house now has quite a few complex extensions – the sort that require planning permission from your local municipality and an architect to draw up the design. In fact, our house is now a mansion. The main rooms of the house still exist, but a swimming pool in the back has been added (Marketing Cloud in 2013), plus an annex with guest bedrooms and bathrooms (CPQ in 2015) – all in the most current and trendy style.

Then came the horse (definitely not a donkey), stable and fields (Mulesoft in 2018).

In fact, if you were approaching it today, down the 200m long pebble driveway, lined with saplings (Slack just last year, still being bedded in), you might not recognise the original shed at all unless you really knew where to look. Even that original shed got a new lick of paint (Lightning in 2015, but there’s still some snagging work outstanding!).

Alongside all the new features, the management of the underlying utilities have been upgraded too (for example Workflow to Process Builder to Flow).

Whilst our #AwesomeAdmin builder was able to do some of the work, the scale and complexity of creating our mansion is really too much, and so experts should be called in to support. The good news is that the #AwesomeAdmin can still do much of the ongoing maintenance to the mansion, a lick of paint there, unblocking a drain over there…

Salesforce has changed, so what?

With this more complicated setup, what you could “get away with” before is no longer so acceptable. Understanding of best practice and creating scalable solutions becomes ever more important and awareness has grown. So, if you still insist on building bad solutions, people will find out!

If you have a gorgeous $15m mansion, are you likely to let just anyone off the street have a go at updating/upgrading/shifting the plumbing/knocking up another extension? Now is the time to determine who should do what and ensure that everyone involved, from Admin to Architect, has the right level of experience and has been vetted (e.g. exam certificates!).

Where does this leave our #AwesomeAdmin?

  • When planning how to make the best use of Salesforce, we must consider that some changes are incredibly hard (if not impossible) to undo at a later date. If you want to explore all that Salesforce can do, make use of developer orgs and sandboxes, where you can play to your heart’s content with no consequences. If you want to understand what choices will have a long-term impact, check out Johann Furmann’s blog for some seriously good, highly digestible tips on this topic.
  • AwesomeAdmin has evolved and you may find yourself taking on responsibilities and tasks that should be designated to an Architect. Despite Salesforce’s efforts, I think we are all still working out where the boundaries are between the roles, especially employers. However, we are moving in the right direction, with Salesforce and the wider ecosystem starting to lay down the fencing and the signposting to ensure that people get the help they need, at the right point, without becoming bogged down by being in a new pasture without the appropriate footwear. Check out architect.salesforce.com, which only went live in December 2020, for some valuable resources to help navigate this area, and understand where the skill set of Architect starts to come in.

Summary

  • The fundamentals remain – always ask “why” before starting a task you have been given. It usually unearths a world of misunderstandings and miscommunications.
  • Recognise that the landscape has changed and this means that your working practices may need a rethink to ensure that they are still suitable and following current best practice.
  • The impact of any changes becomes even more important as technical complexity grows (that’s why startups can be nimble and quick: they do not have technical debt).
  • Documentation is a must: A mansion is a large place and no one person can know everything about it. Combine that with staff turnover and you have a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Just because something is theoretically possible, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea!
  • As the mansion growns, roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined and the right people brought in at the right time.

For more information, check out Admin2Architect: From Salesforce Admin to Becoming a Salesforce Architect.

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