Identifying Your System Administrators

Identifying Your System AdministratorsIn many of my project engagements, especially when is being implemented for the first time, project stakeholders often ask me two questions:

1) How many system administrators should we have?
2) Who would be a good system administrator?

While there is no set formula to answer either of these questions, there are definitely some guidelines that I feel can be used to help identify the right number of system administrators, as well as which employees will be the best candidates for the job.

How Many System Administrators?

When it comes to the number of users who are assigned the system administrator profile, my feeling follows the adage less is more. Just as too many cooks can spoil the soup, too many sys admins can easily step on each other’s toes in the behind-the-scenes setup.

For smaller orgs, where there are 50 users or less, my recommendation is generally for two sys admins. This way you have one primary system administrator and one back-up. Needless to say as the number of licenses increases, so do the number of system administrators. However, even then the number of sys admins should definitely be a small percentage of the overall number of licenses, and they should be given to a team that can work well together while understanding the overall Salesforce roadmap (more on this below).

Oftentimes my preference is to create a custom profile, perhaps called Super User or Power User, that gives users some Salesforce sys admin permissions without giving them the full functionality. For example, many times a company wants additional administrators just to help with a couple of functions such as resetting passwords or creating public Reports. It is better to define a new profile that provides this access before doling out more sys admin licenses. (On a side note, with the Summer ’14 release, the Manage Users permission has been divided into 11 distinct permissions to give more flexibility when delegating access. Search “More Specific Permissions for Managing Users” in the release notes for more information.)

There is also the option of taking advantage of delegated administration to give some users additional administration access without making them full system administrators. Delegated users can do things such as create users or reset passwords but within the confines of certain roles or profiles.

Now that you’ve given some thought as to how many system administrators you should have, let’s look at how to identify the right people for the job.

What Makes a Good System Administrator?

1. Knows the company’s business processes

The most successful system administrators I have met generally have exposure to multiple departments and understand, at least at a high-level, how business processes connect different departments or divisions. I feel this experience is key because you need to understand the full implications when making a change within Salesforce. For example, if Sales is asking for changes to Accounts, how might services benefit from this change or be impacted by this change when they are fielding cases from these companies? A strong Salesforce administrator will know the right people to connect in each department to make sure the requirements are fully discussed.

2. Works strategically

Relating to the characteristic above, your Salesforce admin should know the right order for green-lighting requests. In the ideal world, your Salesforce system administrator will have a roadmap of changes and new functionality to be released in the system. He or she will be able to use that roadmap to determine how critical a new request is and also to think about how that request will impact other projects in the queue.

3. Able to maintain confidentiality

The system administrator profile gives a user “Modify All” access to all information in the system; every record created in Salesforce can be viewed by the system administrator. Therefore it is important to identify sys admin candidates who are going to use discretion before sharing the information they can see. The last thing you want is a sys admin gossiping around the water cooler about how big someone’s Sales bonus is or how low the company-wide pipeline looks. If storing information such as Social Security Numbers or credit card numbers in Salesforce, the need to maintain confidentiality is that much more important.

4. Maintains a Close Attention to Detail

When managing a system like Salesforce, for better or worse one small mistake can have a huge impact on the overall functionality. Whether creating a new field, assigning access to a new Report folder, or writing a formula, it is always important to review and test your work before releasing it into production. It is equally important to document the reason for creating new functionality by using the “description” fields. A good system administrator will make sure to both test and document every step of the way, which will not only ensure a positive end-user experience, but also help other sys admins at a later date understand everything that has been customized over the years.

Of course in addition to all of these traits, having a certification is helpful, but the right candidate can learn the skills they need through a system administrator training course. A system administrator does not need a strong technical background to succeed.


As Salesforce begins to impact every area of your business, the role of the system administrator becomes increasingly important. By carefully identifying the best number of system administrators and the right candidates for the role, you can have confidence that your data is secure, your system is optimized, and that future changes will be made systematically.

If you have further thoughts on the key characteristics of a sys admin, please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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