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Six steps to building efficient telecom NOC

Skyward is sharing its many years’ experience in designing transparent processes, achieving high performance and creating a motivated team.
No telecom carrier can manage without a NOC service. The company can invest a fortune in this department and still lose traffic or build a small flexible team able to deal with any technical issue. What makes the difference? In this article, Skyward will share its many years’ experience in designing transparent processes, achieving high performance and creating a motivated team. There are six key steps to building efficient NOC.
STEP 1

Studying the client needs

Whether you want to launch a NOC outsourcing service or create an internal NOC department, the primary step is to properly identify their business needs and expectations. The more attention you pay to this crucial point at the beginning, the more time you will save in the future and the stronger your cooperation will be.

The goal of a Network Operations Center (NOC) is to keep telecom systems operational and sustain the traffic flow. Therefore, the first order of business is to identify the list of tasks to achieve this goal.
For that end, you need to answer the following questions:
  • What traffic issues are the most common for the client? What problems are the most critical?
  • Which traffic categories or customer groups should be treated as a matter of priority?
  • What equipment configuration operations will the NOC be responsible for?
  • Does the client use any proactive monitoring tools? Will they be interested in the deployment of such tools?
At Skyward, we have a checklist of tasks our NOC can perform. It helps us demonstrate our full potential for a future partner and better understand their needs.
— Sergey Losev, CEO of Skyward
Some obvious yet important points to consider at this early stage are:
  • What NOC schedule will be preferable for the client? 24/7 is not always the best choice.
  • What is the average volume of tasks per month? The number of partners and the traffic flow size might give you a rough estimate.
  • Which client’s departments will NOC engineers talk to? Which means of communication do they prefer?
The client’s needs will constantly change in the process of your cooperation. Always stay in touch with the client to keep abreast of these changes.
STEP 2

Designing the service process

There are about three to five key processes of NOC such as traffic issues processing, technical connections performing, monitoring alerts handling, etc.
It is important to design and visualize all of them for a number of reasons:
  • It will allow you to work through all the steps of the processes in advance and identify potential difficulties.
  • It will simplify the review processes for your client.
  • It will serve as a basis for processes automation and will come of use when writing work procedures for NOC engineers.
You can choose any approach to process design from traditional flowcharts to IDEF to BPMN models as long as they are understandable for the customer. At Skyward, we prefer Lucidchart as a simple and flexible tool for rapid creation and editing of flowcharts and diagrams. In fact, you can use any other visualization tool of your liking.
— Sergey Losev, CEO of Skyward
Apart from technical operations, your process diagrams should also include points of communication with the client and third-party vendors. This will help to divide responsibilities between all the parties involved.
STEP 3

Aligning the SLIs and SLOs

The basic NOC task is not only to process requests according to the agreed process but also do this promptly. The definition of "promptly" depends on your client's expectations and the priority of requests.

It is vital to determine the service parameters, which are important for the client’s business. They are called Service Level Indicators (SLIs) and may include response time, service recovery time, system availability time (e.g. for a monitoring tool), etc. This is a standard set of indicators that sometimes can be extended with the more sophisticated ones such as time to switch to an alternative traffic vendor or acceptable level of margin loss in such a switch. For NOC, these SLIs point to main areas of process optimization.

The indicator values that the NOC team should aim for are called Service Level Objectives (SLOs). It is considered rational to divide all requests into priority groups and set different SLOs for each group.
For example, different response time may be set for different customer groups:
  • 30 minutes for the first 10% of VIP partners,
  • 60 minutes for the next 20% of important partners,
  • 2 hours for the remaining partners.
From experience of Skyward’s engineers, this simple prioritization helps the NOC team to control the overall process while keeping a strong focus on what is most important.
— Sergey Losev, CEO of Skyward
Do not turn the SLIs and SLOs determination process into a discussion of the service process itself. A seasoned NOC team has more experience in building the best service process. Similarly, the client knows better which indicators are critical for their business.
STEP 4

Choosing the automation tool

If you do not have the documented process, you have nothing to automate. That is why you only arrive at this step after completing steps two and three. There are many Helpdesk systems which can be tailored to the needs of your NOC service.
To choose the right one, special attention should be given to the following points:
  • Prepare a feature list required by Helpdesk based on the process designed at step two.
  • Make sure that Helpdesk allows you to communicate with all parties of the process.
  • Check the ability to collect and analyze statistics for indicators agreed at step three.
  • Define the number of Helpdesk users and their roles to accurately estimate the price.
We recommend giving preference to customized Helpdesk systems. They can be easily adjusted in case of inevitable changes in your service process. The customization options should include ticket workflow, escalation schemes, response patterns, custom fields, reporting, etc. Do not forget to pay attention to the availability of well-developed API and add-ons which can enrich Helpdesk with additional features.
Although there are many Helpdesk systems available, each of them has its pros and cons and should be checked for compliance with your purposes. At Skyward, we have tested many options and decided in favour of Kayako and Freshdesk that combine rich basic functionality with process customization.
— Sergey Losev, CEO of Skyward
Your automation tool should be adapted to your process, not vice versa. The right process reflects the core values of your business, so when it becomes standard you lose your unique advantages.
STEP 5

Building the NOC team

This is the most complicated step since there is no guaranteed way to create an efficient team. This topic deserves a separate review, therefore we will limit ourselves to only mentioning the key points of team building.
1
Make a list of tasks your NOC team will perform in the nearest and distant future and identify the knowledge and skills its members should have.
2
Estimate the size and structure of the future team based on the expected work schedule as well as on the quantity and quality of requests to be processed. You can start with your current staff and expand the team by hiring new engineers in the process.
3
Conduct an introductory meeting of the NOC team to familiarize its members with the client’s requirements (SLA) and future tasks. If possible, introduce team members to their peers on the client side.
4
Design an employee development program and hold training for the newly formed team. Encourage experienced team members or even client representatives to share their knowledge. Make the final assessment.
5
Help the NOC team to understand their goals, distribute roles and develop internal rules regarding communication and decision-making.
6
Agree on a reporting framework to monitor the team’s performance and countermeasures taken in case of emergencies. Team members must be sure they will receive sufficient support from the company's management in case they require it.
The final goal is to create a self-organized team, which can respond to any internal and external challenges as well as keep and improve the service quality.
STEP 6

Adopting a continuous improvement approach

Having gone through all the previous steps, you will find yourself at the beginning of the path. As soon as the NOC service starts operating, the team should be ready to change and improve everything! Why so?
The client’s needs and expectations are growing in line with the development of the business. Starting with 300 requests per month, NOC will be processing 500 requests by the end of the first year. The client might require the service team to perform online consulting in Spanish in addition to the English language.
No process is ideal. The team should constantly focus on finding a better way to do the same tasks. While nearly all activities take much time and attention at the beginning, they should be optimized in the future to eliminate unnecessary steps, automate routine items and make operations cost-effective.
This endless cycle is called continuous improvement or kaizen. This approach should cover at least four elements: service process itself, technical and communication tools, team competencies and interactions, customer feedback processing.

We suggest either of the three options below to adopt this approach within your organization:
1
Building a quality system based on the ISO standard
Regular internal audits will help the company discover nonconformities and take corrective actions.
2
Use of initiative groups for improvement (like Toyota’s quality circles)
In case of a challenge, this group will use the kaizen techniques (Five Whys, Ishikawa diagram, etc.) to define the root causes and find ways to solve the issue.
3
Creating permanent Scrum teams
Following Agile principles, the company can form a self-organized team to identify, discuss and implement service improvements within continuous sprints.
At Skyward, each NOC project is handled by a Scrum team, which continually reviews workflows, collects customer feedback and implements changes to improve service quality.
— Sergey Losev, CEO of Skyward
There is nothing permanent except change. Thus, the more stable structure you create to support continuous improvements, the more productive and up-to-date NOC service you will build.
Idea Briefly
Based on almost 10 years of experience, Skyward offers a six-step approach to build an efficient and ever- improving NOC service.
1

Carefully study client's needs and expectations for NOC service. Use checklist.

2

Design and visualize the main service processes and coordinate them with the client.

3

Define business critical indicators and objectives set by the client for NOC.

4

Choose the right tools to automate the service processes and monitor the objectives.

5

Build a team based on the required competencies. Help them with goals, roles and rules.

6

Implement an approach to improve NOC processes, tools and team. Do it continuously!

About Skyward
The company was founded in 2011 by a group of enthusiasts who wanted to channel their skills and energy into cre- ating something of value. Now we are a recognized company in the field of telecom and digital technologies. Being relatively small in size, we possess the required agility and willingness to constantly improve for the benefit of our clients. And yet, our expertise combines a broad range of technical skills with an exceptional managerial talent, which is reflected in our motto: driven by people and technology.
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