Building and Setting Up a NOC: The Critical First Steps

Whether you’re building a new Network Operations Center (NOC) or optimizing an existing support function, the first step is always the same: stepping back to analyze your business, your customers, and the support requirements ahead of you.

This initial analysis enables you to gather information critical to designing NOC in a way that strikes a balance of capability and efficiency. When you ask the right questions, the findings can directly inform the NOC’s organization and operationalization across all three essential elements: people, process, and platform.

Here, we break down the business analysis framework we use at the outset of engagements with enterprises, communications service providers, and OEMs worldwide. This high-level overview offers a starting point for planning your own analysis or preparing to engage a potential NOC partner.

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The Importance of Starting with a Business Analysis

The initial business analysis’s findings identify precisely what the NOC needs to do, so every step of design and operationalization flows from its specific purposes. The analysis also paints a clearer picture of what support currently looks like so the forthcoming NOC can retain and build on its strengths, improve on its weaknesses, and accomplish its goals as efficiently as possible.

Take the broad category of “people,” for example. Determining the NOC’s appropriate staffing levels is mostly a matter of answering a few critical questions about the business and its customers.

These questions include:

  • What technologies will we need to support?
  • Which metrics will we need to measure?
  • What volume of work should we expect?
  • How demanding will the service levels need to be?

Answering these questions will indicate, for example, how many engineers will be needed on the NOC team each shift and which particular skills they’ll need to have to support the technology and meet the desired service levels.

The findings of this analysis can be used to develop a blueprint for the NOC by clearly defining what it needs to do, what kind of team will be required to do that, and what tools and systems the platform will need to be composed of so the NOC can succeed.

In addition to informing a blueprint for the NOC, a useful business analysis will also look for—and call attention to—the everyday challenges within IT environments that require significantly more operational capability within the NOC.

For specific examples and detailed explanations of these challenges, read our free white paper:

Identifying the common challenges we explore in our white paper is critical to ensuring that the NOC is fully prepared to handle support from the start. All too often, these issues fly under the radar during the planning process only to present themselves down the road—a situation that can be incredibly expensive to fix and risky to the business.

Identifying these challenges early is also important for deciding the best way to get the NOC solution you need. The more challenges that surface in the analysis, for example, the less attractive building a NOC in-house can look from a resource and cost perspective. Similarly, the findings can help an outsourced NOC partner determine an optimal support model for service (shared versus dedicated).

Simply revealing the operational issues that NOCs typically experience can radically challenge the assumptions around just how sophisticated a NOC operation needs to be to deliver value across the organization and outward to customers.

The 4 Key Components of a NOC Business Analysis

This type of business analysis should contain four main components, which we’ve identified and briefly unpacked below. The structure presented here is the one we use ourselves at the outset of just about every NOC build and optimization engagement.

1. Gather Your Support Requirements (and Those of Your Customers)

It’s critical to start by understanding who and what is being supported in as much detail as possible. Communications service providers that support many customers, for example, need to evaluate the size and nature of their customer base as it will determine the process model that’s best suited to support them. 

For enterprise companies needing to support their own internal infrastructure, that process model can look quite different.

This first step of gathering support requirements also helps characterize the state of your existing support function to identify gaps in capability or problems related to performance and sustainability. Existing issues might be well-known, such as staff fatigue or technology gaps. Other issues may be off the radar entirely, like the critical but generally under-appreciated area of business continuity.

In short, it’s important to fully identify the known requirements a NOC will need to support, but also shed light on blindspots that could enhance capabilities or close doors to risk.

2. Determine the Service Levels Necessary for Support (SLOs)

Here at INOC, we take a close look at service level management (SLM) to determine proper staffing levels, what tools will need to comprise the NOC platform, and how success should be measured. An SLM analysis is essentially a performance review of a service as it exists now to determine what it needs to include going forward.

A practical SLM analysis asks a few specific questions, which we briefly explore below.

What are the agreed-upon service level objectives (SLOs) for calls, emails, and alerts in general?

These SLOs are a massive factor when determining staffing levels and tool configurations within the NOC.

For example, a call response SLO set at ten seconds can have vastly different implications than one set at 30 seconds. The shorter the time, the exponentially more staff you’ll need to meet that mandate.

The same is true for alerts. Within a broader Service Level Agreement (SLA) document containing perhaps tens of SLOs, an agreement to isolate just a few of those perhaps critical alerts (as opposed to many or all) will significantly impact the setup and configuration of how SLOs will need to be managed.

Are there different SLAs and SLOs for different types of customers?

If SLOs differ between calls, emails, or other activities that impact time-to-action, those differences will need to be reflected in the NOC’s tools and platform. This may have little impact on how the NOC is operationalized, but significantly impact how the tools within it are configured.

When different customers require different SLAs (rather than standard service levels across the customer base), much more effort must be made to configure different SLOs for each customer. Suppose the Time to Acknowledge (TTA) for an alert for one customer is three minutes but ten minutes for another. In this case, that difference has to be reflected in the NOC platform capabilities, staffing levels, and a queueing function to ensure prioritization can occur.

What are the SLAs for the various services you offer?

This is essentially reviewing the current SLAs for each service.

For example, you may have a help desk service, dispatch service, or an on-site technician service. The task here is simply to lay out all of those services alongside their SLAs.

How is SLA adherence determined and measured?

Lastly, it’s important to review what you are and aren’t measuring right now.

Do you have a method for measuring the support you’re currently providing? If so, it should simplify the setup of the NOC. The more that is already being measured with the proper tools, the less work will have to go into preparing the forthcoming NOC. 

If measurement gaps exist, those needs will have to be identified so the NOC can be set up and configured to fill them.

3. Determine the Metrics the NOC Will Need to Measure

This component of the analysis examines what’s currently being measured and how that reporting is contributing to the quality of support being provided. The findings should reveal what’s working, what’s not, and what changes should be made to ensure that the right metrics are tracked and reported.

How is internal NOC effectiveness measured?

Concerning metrics, the first question is perhaps the most overarching: how do you measure the NOC’s effectiveness? 

In asking this question, you’re trying to understand whether or not the answer reflects industry standards from a handling perspective. 

Here’s an example to illustrate: 

Imagine you’re looking at the average time to impact analysis of an application issue. Looking at the data, you learn that it’s taking 50 minutes, whereas the industry standard is 20 minutes. In this case, the discrepancy would impact the staff’s training so that gap could be closed. In terms of internal NOC effectiveness, these are the kinds of insights the analysis should surface so performance cards can be generated for each engineer.

How is customer satisfaction measured?

Measuring customer satisfaction in this context is typically done through NPS surveys and routine check-ins to measure specific KPIs. It’s important to determine if you have a methodology or process in place for measuring customer satisfaction, how well it’s working, and how that program could be enhanced.

What do the metrics say about current NOC support?

This question is more subjective and qualitative than many of the others that comprise the business analysis. In short, it aims to make a broader judgment about the current state of NOC support. Are you over-utilized or under-utilized? Does underperformance in some areas of your metrics indicate that training needs to be a priority moving forward?

The point is to draw conclusions from your metrics that can be directly translated into a NOC plan.

These takeaways are incredibly important for identifying an optimal NOC service provider based on your specific challenges. Here at INOC, for example, companies that are revealed to be under-utilized from a staffing perspective—or inefficient from a process and operational perspective—are often perfect fits for our particular solutions.

4. Determine the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

In the context of new NOC service, the two most prominent figures factoring into the TCO are establishing and maintaining the platform and the labor cost to support it.

Summary, Final Thoughts, and Next Steps

Breaking ground on a new NOC operation starts by diving deep to understand your business and support requirements from every angle. Only after that can an operational strategy take shape, which connects directly to the business’s requirements and services. 

Head to our NOC Operations Consulting page to learn more about what follows from the business analysis and how it’s situated within the broader process of planning, implementing, operating, and continually improving a NOC.

In addition to the four main components of a business analysis we discuss here, it’s important to consider the business’s current and expected growth and the extent to which growth will demand more from the NOC. This question will prompt a discussion that will look very different from one company to another, which is one of many reasons it’s critical to partner with NOC experts to facilitate this analysis and ask questions informed by experience.

Having designed and implemented NOC operations with the best reputation in the enterprise, communications service provider, and OEM markets, our experts deliver comprehensive best practices consulting for designing and building new NOCs and helping existing NOCs significantly improve the support provided to you and your customers. 

The analysis framework outlined here is just one component of our comprehensive consulting function that has unlocked significant efficiencies for companies worldwide. Learn more about our NOC Operations Consulting service here.

Want to learn more about building or optimizing a NOC? Grab our free white paper below for a deep dive into each of the top challenges every NOC should be designed to overcome, or get in touch with us to start the conversation about designing a new NOC or optimizing an existing one.

Top 10 Challenges to Running a Successful NOC


Top 10 Challenges to Running a Successful NOC — and How to Solve Them

Download our free white paper and learn how to overcome the top challenges in running a successful NOC.




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