The Definitive Guide to Outsourced NOC Support Services (2021)

Learn the purpose and functions of a modern Network Operations Center (NOC), the challenges NOCs face, and how to resolve or avoid virtually all of them by outsourcing NOC support to a reliable third-party service provider.

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Introduction

No matter what kind of business you run, your IT infrastructure and applications are bound to be affected by outages. Every second of downtime can cost you time and money.

A properly built, well-managed Network Operations Center (NOC) not only mitigates these losses, but also improves network, infrastructure, and application performance.  A poorly designed and managed NOC, on the other hand, leaves your technology investments—and the business activities that rely on them—exposed and vulnerable.

This guide explores the purpose and functions of a modern NOC, the challenges NOCs face, and how virtually all of them can be resolved or avoided by outsourcing NOC support to a reliable third-party support provider—one that can effectively operationalize those challenges away while providing a more cost-effective option for getting the support you or your customers need.

Whether you already have an internal NOC and are considering augmenting or replacing that operation with outsourced support, or you’re trying to identify the optimal support option for a currently unsupported environment, this guide surfaces the critical information you need to make an informed decision. 

If any of these points resonate with you, don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or schedule a free NOC consultation to connect with our Solutions Engineering Team. We’d love to talk NOC.

1 NOC 101: The Basics of a Network Operations Center

NOC engineer smiling

 

What is a NOC?

A NOC is a centralized location where an organization monitors and manages support for its internal and external IT services, network, cloud instances, servers, storage, applications, and other components that comprise its infrastructure. The NOC may reside in an organization’s facility on-site or at an external location and operate at certain periods or continuously 24x7x365.

What is the purpose of a NOC?

While the NOC’s primary job is to maximize performance and uptime, it plays another crucial role that few organizations take full advantage of: minimizing the productivity loss to the business when IT assets go down for any reason.

A high-functioning NOC does more than just keep your network, infrastructure, and applications up and running. It quickly informs impacted users of a problem, enabling them to shift their attention to other tasks without skipping a beat.

The faster users realize a billing application is down, for example, the faster they can shift to email or other tasks. Across the organization, these downstream actions add up to immense savings in time and attention that would otherwise be lost to miscommunication and confusion. This productivity advantage is the number one reason smart companies approach their NOC service as a business investment.

In short, the value that a NOC returns to the business should be far greater than the investment necessary to make it effective.

You know a NOC is working well—and to its full potential—when it’s delivering measurable ROI back to the business it serves.

In addition to detecting issues, the NOC oversees corrective actions to restore functionality after an outage. It’s here that the NOC offers a golden opportunity to keep the business moving during downtime by improving communication between key stakeholders—both those whose work is impacted and those fixing the problem.

Unlocking this capability within your NOC requires a centralized operational framework to deliver information and take action at lightning speed—shortening response and resolution times while giving staff the information they need to adjust to the outage quickly.

To see more clearly how a NOC can save your business the high costs of low productivity, let’s briefly revisit its basic functions.

What does a NOC do?

At its core, a successful NOC performs three functions:

  1. Event Monitoring and Management: The NOC team responds to inputs from event monitoring and management systems as well as calls, emails, and other sources.
  2. Ticketing: From the event monitoring sources, people, and tools in the NOC create incident, change, and service request records.
  3. Troubleshooting and Resolution: Processes and procedures guide the NOC to address each task and work to resolve issues.

Beyond these basic functions, a NOC team’s key responsibilities encompass a wider series of specific tasks presented in the ITIL* framework. While ITIL includes other processes, in our experience these five are the most important to address. Let’s briefly look at them through a practical lens.

  • Event Monitoring and Management allows the NOC to monitor, detect, and process events and faults related to the organization’s infrastructure and systems. Events can consist of alarms from systems, calls from internal staff (or customers), and email or chat. The NOC team uses a single or (as is common), multiple tools, including Network Management Systems (NMSs), Element Management System (EMSs), Application Performance Management (APM) tools, and others. These platforms receive and filter messages from devices, servers, cloud instances, applications, and other infrastructure using protocols such as SNMP, TL1, WMI, and, more recently, gRPC and gNMI, among others. Once an event is detected, it’s evaluated, correlated, and acknowledged, and if further management is needed, it’s logged into an incident or ticket.
  • Incident Management is, in one respect, the core process of a successful NOC. Using the NOC’s IT service management platform or ticketing system, this process provides support when a network, system, or application event requires action. The event is recorded in a ticket with information in different fields. Tickets are handled by NOC engineers and also sent to other personnel as needed in the form of an email, a call, or a message requesting action to address an issue. These communications also include periodic updates and notifications until the incident has been closed. Incident tickets collectively act as a record of all work efforts in the NOC and allow for reporting that can help manage NOC workflow and resources.
  • Problem Management encompasses all the activities needed to diagnose the root cause of incidents and request changes to resolve those problems. Problem Management differs from Incident Management as the focus is to investigate and identify the root cause of an incident rather than its effect. Typically, Problem Management requires greater engineering skills to review the trends leading up to an incident, scour logs for indications that point to possible causes of the failure, and formulate plans to prevent future incidents. The Problem Management service also maintains information about problems and workarounds for use by Incident Management personnel.
  • Capacity Management oversees the performance, utilization, and capacity of infrastructure components to ensure that the client’s service level targets are achieved. Capacity Management should ensure that business capacity, service capacity, and component capacity needs all continue to be met. Senior engineers’ regular reviews of reports and alarm thresholds, taking into account the desired business outcomes and the impact of utilization on business operations, will ensure that evolving capacity needs are addressed in a timely manner.
  • Change Management reduces risk when changes are made to the supported infrastructure environment. This function includes identifying the types of changes the organization anticipates and establishing how each change should be handled to reduce the impact on the organization. Processes and controls are generally oriented around three types of change:
    • Standard changes are routine and low-impact, like resetting passwords. 
    • Emergency changes must be addressed promptly, such as by rerouting network traffic when the primary WAN uplink at a regional office is unstable. 
    • Normal changes are planned in advance and might include upgrading the operating system on a server cluster, for example. This type of change would be managed through a review process to ensure proper planning.

A Change Advisory Board should review and set policies for all these changes. This group helps mitigate risk by ensuring all possible impacts of a change have been taken into consideration and a proper plan with a recovery process is in place.

A Few Key Considerations

  • Does your NOC adequately address each of these five key processes?
  • Does your NOC’s reporting capability deliver meaningful metrics in each of these areas?
  • Are you using recorded incident records to help manage NOC resources appropriately?
  • Are your NOC engineers reviewing trend data, conducting effective root cause analysis, and taking preventive action?
  • Does your NOC review and adjust your IT infrastructure capacity in anticipation of the organization’s changing business needs?
  • Does your NOC have a Change Advisory Board to manage the risks posed by changes?

See some room for improvement? Get in touch and let's discuss possible solutions.

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2Identifying and Diagnosing the Top Challenges NOCs Face

NOC engineer working


Despite being such a foundational component of the technical support operation that keeps organizations running, many NOCs, in both the service provider and enterprise markets, fail to deliver the desired service levels while consuming significant management and financial resources.

By far the biggest cause of this failure is the lack of any authoritative blueprint for the NOC to follow—a documented framework that establishes clear, standardized rules that govern how the NOC team should operate.

Since no two organizations share the same business strategies, technology infrastructures, tools, or service requirements, the factors that make a NOC successful or unsuccessful are different for each organization. Therefore, each NOC deserves its own operational blueprint that takes into account the specific conditions and requirements that pertain to it.

Although the lack of this operational blueprint is the most common root cause of most NOC problems, it’s certainly not the only one. We briefly summarize the ten NOC challenges we see most often below. 

📄 Grab our free white paper to learn more about each of them along with expert solutions to each: Top 10 Challenges to Running a Successful NOC—and How to Overcome Them.

Challenge #1: Overutilized technology staff and exploding support costs due to a lack of a tiered organizational structure to manage workflows

This is the operational blueprint we just mentioned. Failing to organize NOC activities and subsequent workflows by technology and skill level is one of the biggest hurdles in building a successful NOC. When a NOC can’t manage its workflow, it often finds itself overwhelmed by the “wall of red.”

A tiered operational support structure enables managers to leverage the lower-cost first-level or Tier 1 team to perform routine activities and free up higher-level or Tier 2 and 3 technical teams to focus on more advanced support issues.

The figure below lays out the basics of tiered NOC support structure. Central to this structure is the Tier 1 team that uses monitoring tools and interacts with end-user help desks, Tier 2 and 3 engineers, and third parties. Information flows between the various entities within a well-defined process framework.

Tiered NOC Support Structure


Issues coming into the NOC should also be prioritized and organized into a set of queues, each of which can be handled by the appropriate group. These can be organized by important variables such as service level agreements (SLAs), technologies, and technician skill levels.

The figure below shows how a set of issues can be broken up into queues and assigned to groups based on skillset.

Sample NOC Workflow Queues

These visuals are intended to be instructive in building a framework, but also in realizing the distance between what a NOC should have, and what it actually might have. Especially in NOCs supporting enterprises or communication service providers, the further operations are from a structure like this, the more value it can expect to gain from implementing one.

Challenge #2: Blindness to issues and opportunities due to insufficient operational metrics

Anyone working in a NOC is likely to hear statements like these on a routine basis:

  • “Why are we always busy?”
  • “I feel like we can never catch up,” and
  • “My coworkers are not pulling their weight.”

These sentiments are understandable given the fast-paced environment of a NOC and the constant multitasking that is required. Meaningful operational metrics are vital not only in running a successful NOC but also in keeping staff morale high.

In many NOCs, however, not only are important metrics not being measured—the ones that are being measured aren’t being evaluated on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. In the case of either or both problems, the early indicators of potential issues will almost certainly go ignored and allowed to evolve into more resource-intensive problems. 

For a quick self-evaluation on this point, consider whether you’re tracking first-call resolution, percentage of abandoned calls, mean time to restore, and number of tickets and calls handled. If you have blindspots in any of these areas, we can almost guarantee there’s an operational vulnerability affecting the NOC’s efficiency or effectiveness. Be aware, however, that this shortlist is by no means exhaustive. Even a brief consult with our Solutions Engineering Team typically reveals a number of metric gaps companies can put on their radar.

Challenge #3: High turnover, low morale, and difficulty in hiring, training, and retaining staff due to a lack of a staffing strategy

Great NOCs are a function of great people. But very often, the absence of both a support structure and a skills-based structure can handicap a company’s ability to attract and retain great talent.

Consider the overall activity of your NOC, including the volume of calls, emails, and alarms handled by hour-of-day, day-of-week, and type of support engineer, as well as the duration of incidents. This data should be translated into a working schedule for each type of support engineer needed to satisfy the staffing requirements of your NOC. In addition to using your utilization metrics, benefits, training, and employee growth plans should all be in place.

Challenge #4: Inconsistent responsiveness to issues or difficulty troubleshooting due to a lack of a staffing strategy

A lack of consistency is one of the main reasons NOCs don’t perform at optimal levels.

The best way to achieve consistency is through a standardized process framework. Such a framework provides a NOC with a set of specific procedures for handling various support situations. There are several process and management frameworks to choose from, including MOF, FCAPS, and ITIL.

Process frameworks can be overwhelming when considered in their entirety, so it’s best to tackle areas that challenge the organization the most first. Usually, that’s incident management, problem management, and service desk.

Challenge #5: A constant state of vulnerability due to a lack of a business continuity plan

Many NOCs simply don’t have a documented plan that outlines the functions of the business, identifies the critical systems that enable the organization to run, and prescribes specific actions to maintain these systems during a disruption. Others have a plan—perhaps limited to disaster recovery only—but don’t adequately protect against all potential disasters and disruptions.

For a quick gap assessment, consider the following essentials for a NOC business continuity plan against your own:

  • Infrastructure redundancy: Regardless of whether your NOC’s data centers are physical or virtual, the disaster recovery plan should include at least two identical data centers running identical software with fully synchronized databases.
  • Operational redundancy: An effective disaster recovery plan should also ensure that the NOC can continue to operate in the event of a site failure.
  • Technical redundancy: Your NOC’s disaster recovery plan should also prepare for a major technical outage that poses a disaster-level threat to NOC service despite affecting only a portion of your facility. Consider scenarios like loss of a single server or network element, loss of much or all of the data center, and loss of a network link.

Challenge #6: Recurring problems and an inability to emerge out of a reactive state due to a lack of quality management

Without continuous quality assurance, NOCs risk hurting customer satisfaction and compromising their reputation. There are two components of quality management in this case: quality assurance and quality control.

A good quality control program monitors and measures primary aspects of the NOC service—the key performance indicators referenced earlier. These KPIs provide much-needed visibility into NOC support activity, responsiveness, and effectiveness. NOC management can use this information to ensure, for instance, that stated objectives for event-to-action times and first-level incident resolution are being met for each customer.

A good quality or service assurance program allows the NOC to identify and resolve problems before they impact customers or the business in a significant way. A quality assurance review begins when a customer reports dissatisfaction with any aspect of the NOC service. NOC management follows up with an internal review of the service—responsiveness metrics, adherence to runbook procedures, customer interaction, and technical troubleshooting, to name a few.

Such quantitative and qualitative measures and the resulting feedback lower the probability of the same problem recurring. Monthly and quarterly reviews of the service with stakeholders ensure that customer expectations continue to be met.

Challenge #7: Lots of data, but little actionable insight due to disparate tools and platforms

Especially among enterprises and communication service providers, the NOC has to be able to receive and process alarm or event information from multiple sources and present it in a single, consolidated view for staff to act on—a “single pane of glass.”

Without integration between these tools and platforms, NOC personnel are faced with tracking and managing multiple screens for event information; manually collecting information from multiple sources for the purposes of documentation, notification, and escalation; and then attempting to manage workflow toward service restoration. This makes it nearly impossible to monitor and report on SLA metrics, let alone optimize performance. The results inevitably include operational inefficiencies, missed SLAs, and undue stress on staff.

Challenge #8: Persistent operational problems due to out-of-date documentation and runbooks

Failure to build runbooks, document workflow processes, create structured databases for storage and retrieval of information, and record business results for later analysis and optimization will severely impede the ability of a NOC to function well over the long term. Too often, services are added and changes are made without proper documentation. This limits the ability of the NOC to resolve an issue when it arises.

Poor documentation often stems from a lack of resources and the expertise required to map out processes and create work instructions and documents. Instead, key people simply “know what to do” and new staff learn by “seeing and doing” alongside an experienced mentor.

Challenge #9: Business growth stymied due to a rigid, unscalable NOC

Many NOCs aren’t designed to be scalable; that is, able to handle a growing amount of work as the company grows without compromising the level of service.

Typically, business plans include initial funding, sales and marketing, system build-out, operations support, and the business guidance needed to meet the projected growth. What business plans sometimes don’t take into consideration are predictable growth and process planning. The ability to grow or absorb expansion requires careful consideration of staffing, systems and network, tools, process standardization, and training.

Challenge #10: Unreasonably high operational costs

There are several components that make up the cost of running a 24x7 NOC. Take staff for example. The staff required to support a 24x7 NOC include not only front-line technicians and engineers but also back-end support groups such as systems and network engineering, service transition, human resources, and customer advocacy. 

Resources also need to be allocated for training NOC staff when they are initially hired, as well as when onboarding new customers, and whenever changes are made to existing support or new technologies are introduced. Systems, network connectivity, and security controls need to be deployed in either a data center or the cloud to house the various tools and applications required by the NOC to operate. Resources for ongoing support need to be included.

All of these components present a formidable operating expense but have to be considered in building a successful NOC. Too often, NOCs are built considering only a subset of the above components, and as a result, they struggle to scale and deliver on the required service and financial objectives of the organization.

A Few Key Considerations

  • Does your NOC or broader business currently face any of the challenges we identify here?
  • If so, what’s preventing the organization from overcoming it/them?
  • What is the current financial, practical, and reputational toll of letting these challenges go unaddressed?
  • Does it make more sense to invest in overcoming these challenges internally or through an outsourced NOC support provider?

See some room for improvement? Get in touch and let's discuss possible solutions.

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3What is Outsourced NOC Support?

Working in the NOC


Outsourced NOC support is a customized third-party operational service that takes on the cost and complexity of setting up and completely running NOC operations (in other words, becoming an organization’s NOC) or augmenting an organization’s existing NOC such as performing off-hours services or operationally and technically managing a subset of the infrastructure.

The NOC service provider first conducts an assessment to learn precisely how the service needs to be established and operationalized. Then they work with the client to turn up services. Support is delivered as an ongoing service from the service provider’s NOC—likely much more cost-effectively and less stressfully than performing those functions in-house. In fact, the term “NOC as a service” has entered the industry’s lexicon to describe this support model.

When companies say they’re looking to “stand up a NOC” and are considering doing that themselves or outsourcing that work to a third-party NOC provider, NOC support as we described it above is most likely what they’re looking for. The organization will typically have a lot of tasks for the NOC to do. The support provider will replicate what an in-house NOC team would otherwise be doing and carry out support. 

That’s in contrast to, for instance, turning up service for some number of devices at a specific set price per month. This is more in line with a traditional managed service—something that’s a great fit for IT integrators or circuit providers looking to add white-labeled support to their products, but not such a great fit for most enterprises and service providers that need a much more involved and customized solution. 

If you’re an MSP looking to enhance your service offering with 24x7 NOC support capabilities, head to our VISION Partner page to learn more about accessing the NOC expertise and support capabilities you need to reach new markets and accelerate profitability in high-demand service areas.

Why do organizations outsource their NOC support?

Given the costs, complexity, access to tools, and expertise required to properly monitor, manage, review, and optimize multi-technology, multi-vendor systems, handing some or all support over to a service provider solely devoted to NOC support offers many organizations the easiest, most cost-effective path to the highest quality support for themselves and/or their customers.

Apart from the mountain of capital expenditures required to stand up and operationalize a 24x7 NOC, large organizations (enterprises, communication service providers, etc.), have to overcome the long list of operational challenges we identified in the previous section. These can pose significant practical problems that only further underscore the value of outsourcing support to a provider that has solved for these challenges.

Outsourcing also offers a level of scalability that simply wouldn't be feasible in-house. A shared NOC support model—one that utilizes a timely and reliable resource pool that is constantly triaging and working through queues containing tickets from many clients—enables organizations to benefit from economies of scale. Rather than being limited to a set number of dedicated resources, shared support works in multiple client environments through assignments that commit them to a particular environment at any one time. This offers a reasonable level of flexibility to absorb varying workloads and the option to scale service up or down to meet fluctuating support demands.

Outsourcing NOC support to a provider with an operationally mature NOC not only frees up precious in-house resources to work on more revenue-generating projects but puts the people, process, and platform elements in place to meet and exceed the service levels demanded of your end-users or customers. 

The net result is almost always the same: a reduction in overall operational costs, the metrics to manage those costs, and, in most cases, significantly improved performance.

In short, an outsourced NOC offers you the unique ability to get as much or as little support as you need so you can better utilize your own IT resources—all while protecting your business and meeting or exceeding desired service levels.

How does pricing work?

There are two primary pricing models for outsourced NOC service: fixed per-device pricing and adaptive pricing based on activity level over time.

  • Fixed per-device pricing is exactly what it sounds like. Devices are either categorized and priced by type, or, more generally, as a total number of “devices” or “nodes.”
  • Adaptive operational activity pricing is a more sophisticated pricing model that determines pricing based on the actual NOC activity levels measured across your supported infrastructure over time.

While the number of devices requiring monitoring and support is always a critical factor when pricing NOC service, in our view, it’s often an overly simplistic long-term pricing factor to be used on its own, except in specific circumstances.

Especially for companies outsourcing to avoid what would be an expensive, over- or under-utilized in-house NOC, adapting flat, all-inclusive service pricing that tracks with activity levels can significantly lower the overall cost of service while retaining the ability to project costs as you would with totally fixed per-device pricing.

For more on NOC service pricing, read our post: Outsourced NOC Pricing: A Buyer’s Guide.

4The Advantages of Outsourcing NOC Support

Man working an ITSM issue


One of the biggest decisions organizations have to make in building, expanding, or optimizing a NOC is whether it’s best to manage support in-house or outsource it to a third-party service provider.

Although some may assume an in-house NOC affords greater control and is therefore preferred, the right outsourced NOC operation can offer a suite of capabilities and efficiency advantages that dramatically tip the scale in terms of cost, scalability, and practical considerations like employee morale. This is especially true for enterprises and communications service providers looking to support themselves or their customers and managed service providers (MSPs) looking to partner with a NOC service provider to add or enhance their managed service offering.

With the same or better level of control and the significant cost-efficiencies gained by eliminating the need to build and maintain what would be a poorly-utilized platform and staff in-house, it’s vital for any company seriously considering an in-house NOC to carefully determine whether the added costs, effort, and responsibilities are worth it before standing up a NOC themselves.

Here, we’ve broken down a few of the significant factors that make outsourcing advantageous with the right service provider.

1. Instant operational maturity and access to expertise

Compared to the months or years it can take to find NOC specialists, build a team, and bring an operationally mature NOC to life in-house, turning up support with an outsourced NOC condenses all that time and effort into just a few weeks—often far more cost-effectively.

Finding NOC specialists with the requisite domain expertise is a challenge unto itself. Developing an operational framework on which to run the NOC is its own under-appreciated project that requires exceptionally specialized experience that can be difficult to find in the labor market.

This talent specialization is critical to ensuring the NOC can effectively navigate all the operational challenges that impede its success and flexibility. Operational blindspots—the things you don’t know you don’t know—are a frustratingly common tripping point that can have far-reaching consequences for a NOC and the business. When the NOC isn’t thoughtfully operationalized around specific challenges, it has almost certainly signed itself up for stressful and expensive problem-solving down the road (not to mention unhappy end-users and customers).

2. Lower total cost of ownership

One of the biggest “a-ha!” moments organizations experience during this decision-making process is the math around costs and relative value. Among enterprises, communication service providers, OEMs, and MSPs serving these large customers, the monthly cost of outsourcing NOC support versus taking it on in-house can be eye-opening, to say the least.

Given that most NOCs require, at minimum, a team of ten to provide reliable 24/7/365 support, comparing the total in-house human resource expenditures to a much smaller team of outsourced FTEs operating in a fully mature NOC environment can lead to a stark realization.

For most companies, staffing a NOC is often a needlessly high expenditure compared to outsourcing that support. A plan that doesn’t consider this opportunity might, for example, call for a staff of 12 full-time employees, when in fact, the same or likely better support could be provided through an outsourced service solution that takes full advantage of an economy of scale to provide far better service at a far lower cost.

Factoring in the downtime (and thus lost revenue) a capable provider could prevent, employee salaries and overhead, training, turnover, licensing fees, consulting fees, and the myriad of other expenses of doing NOC in-house, it’s not uncommon for companies to realize that outsourced support can cut their total cost of ownership in half.

Much of these cost savings are realized beyond the obvious expenditures. A litany of important cost questions can remain in the blindspot, only to surface later as expensive problems when they went unanswered at the outset of the build.

Consider the following questions:

  • Have you compared the costs of hiring an in-house team to an outsourced team?
  • How do the requirements necessary for maintaining an effective NOC impact the payroll expenses for securing expertise?
  • Have you considered the back-office staff needed to support the NOC and its associated costs?
  • Have you considered the full-freight costs of purchasing and implementing an AIOps platform? Do you have the operational capability and expertise to continually improve its machine learning to make better correlations and reduce MTTR in responding to incidents?
  • Is your human resourcing team aware of, and prepared for, the added workload of hiring into an in-house NOC?

3. Faster speed to market

The third significant difference between in-house and outsourced NOCs is the time it takes to bring service online. Between planning the build, hiring a team, training that team, and aligning over the operational plan, in-house NOCs can expect 16 to 24 weeks minimum before all the parts are even in place. It can then take months to gain confident control over the system.

For many companies, it can then take years to gain operational maturity—the point where the NOC has the data, technical capability, and supplementary support it needs to continually improve itself.

Consider the following questions:

  • How do your NOC requirements impact the time you could expect to get a homegrown operation running and operationally mature?
  • What risks will your business services remain vulnerable to before an in-house NOC could be deployed?
  • How do the required skillsets for building and managing an in-house NOC impact internal payroll expenditures and the timeline for the build?

4. Reduced burden on your valuable technical resources

Requiring staff to be on-call after-hours and on weekends to respond to alerts could take a serious toll on morale and job efficiency. Burnout and potential indifference due to nuisance alarms and alerts add to the toll.

Staffing a 24x7 NOC requires staffing three shifts a day, 365 days a year. Providing a productive, healthy work environment that attracts and retains talent you can rely on isn’t easy. Often, NOCs don’t provide the structure and support commensurate with the demands on the typical NOC engineer. The resulting high turnover further burdens management and HR while leaving the door wide open to serious risks.

An effective outsourced NOC partner will shoulder the burden of staffing, so, again, you can focus in-house resources on more important revenue-generating activities. Here at INOC, our staffing strategy is designed to make work both challenging and fulfilling for everyone. Work is manageable, support is given, and everyone has an opportunity to grow.

Consider the following questions:

  • Are your technical resources burdened with lower-level support activities?
  • Do support activities steal valuable time and attention from revenue-generating projects?
  • How much more productive could your technical team be if their time was freed for other work?
  • Do off-hours support activities negatively impact employee morale?

5What to Look for in a NOC Support Provider

NOC engineer in red shirt


Okay—you’ve weighed the pros, cons, costs, and benefits. You see the advantage of outsourcing your NOC services. Now it’s time to find a service provider best fit for you. When looking for an outsourced NOC partner, look for one who offers a wide variety of customized options. Your needs are unique and your business faces its own set of challenges.

Here are a few of the major components and qualities you’ll want to see in your service provider.

1. A tiered organization and workflow

As we mentioned earlier, the structure is essential to the success of a NOC. Does a prospective NOC service provider bring this to the table? For example, here at INOC, our support framework typically reduces high-tier support activities by 60% or more, often as much as 90%. 


NOC Support Activities



The Structured NOC, as we call it, radically transforms where and how support activities are managed—both by tier and category. In a matter of months, the value of this operational framework becomes abundantly clear as support activities steadily migrate to their appropriate tiers as shown in the breakdown above. This lightens the load on advanced engineers while working and resolving issues faster and more effectively.

2. A support system for the NOC itself

24x7 support requires more than a fully staffed NOC. Each activity that surrounds NOC support, including onboarding, tools integration, and reporting (just to name a few), requires a dedicated team that can put experience and best practices to work for you.

Success in NOC support is a combined effort between the NOC team and the critical teams supporting it. Here at INOC, for example, the INOC Team encompasses all of these roles and functions, giving you a complete support package from initial service transition to close-knit customer experience management (and everything in between).


NOC Team


3. A workflow enhanced by machine learning and automation (AIOps)

Most NOCs generate more data than they know what to do with. Much of this data is begging to be analyzed as it contains incredibly useful information that could dramatically improve the speed and quality of support. But without the powerful analysis capabilities needed to intelligently sift through all of that data, NOCs are forced to leave those insights locked away—leaving huge opportunities on the table.

AIOps—Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations—uses big data, analytics, automation, and machine learning capabilities to unlock the insights contained within massive amounts of data generated across an environment. It can then use those insights to identify and automate low-risk tasks in the NOC. With vastly superior data processing and machine learning power, the NOC can perform correlation much faster and identify the subtle indicators of approaching issues within a torrent of mostly noisy data.

Especially in enterprise or similarly complex environments where incidents and events need to be correlated across perhaps three, four, or five different monitoring platforms, successfully supporting multiple enterprise clients requires the advanced analysis and interpretation capabilities only AIOps can offer. As far as we know, we’re so far the only NOC support provider applying powerful AIOps capabilities to the NOC operations environment—consolidating and correlating data from disparate systems and providing remarkable intelligence for better, faster support. 

📄 Grab our free white paper, The Role of AIOps in Enhancing NOC Support, to learn how your NOC support stands to gain from AIOps. Use the free included worksheet to contextualize the value of AIOps for your organization. 

4. A highly integrable support platform

Complex environments that require support for multi-vendor, multi-technology IT stacks need an outsourced NOC support partner who can augment and build on any current IT support capabilities with integrations without disrupting your operation.

Here at INOC, for example, our platform offers a wide array of existing system integrations developed over many years, as well as the flexibility to integrate with virtually anything you or your customers may use. Building a homegrown platform that’s integrable enough to connect to multiple enterprise environments is an incredibly difficult feat that would require extremely rare operational and technical expertise. 

Whether it’s a monitoring tool, ticketing system, or anything else, your NOC provider should have the knowledge, procedural flexibility, and platform capability to integrate with your customers’ operations and toolsets without creating new problems and risks.

5. A 24x7 service desk

The service desk is the single point of contact for you and your customers. All phone calls, emails, and other alerts are processed into incidents and requests before being dispatched to the appropriate personnel based on your desired level of technical support. 

Since enterprises and other large organizations need all kinds of support around the clock, it’s important to ensure your service provider has a 24x7 service desk for notification, tier one, or more advanced NOC support based on your specific needs.

6. A comprehensive and flexible approach to Service Level Management (SLM)

Complex support services often require more than standard SLAs. You or your customers should have the flexibility to choose which service levels reflect actual measures for success. Your NOC service provider should then help you assemble the SLM package that reflects the specific demands of your IT environment while balancing business goals and budget.

At INOC, for example, we take service level measurement to the next level. In addition to standard KPI reporting, which includes monthly SLA measurements, we deliver an array of additional SLOs to better measure performance and keep both teams aligned on success.

7. Continual service improvement delivered through a broader Customer Experience Management program

Enterprise customers demand the highest standards for quality support. Your support provider should be prepared to build out not just a NOC, but a support operation to continually improve it. 

Here at INOC, for example, our dedicated quality control and assurance programs maintain proactive and reactive checks on virtually every service component we provide. These quality measures come together with next-level reporting capabilities to deliver the comprehensive Continual Service Improvement only an operationally mature IT organization can deliver on.

6What to Expect Before, During, and After Onboarding

Hands typing on keyboard


Organizations considering outsourcing their NOC support often wonder what the process of transitioning or turning up service looks like and what to expect before and after. While this process may look different from one organization to another, in general, a capable NOC support provider will first conduct an assessment to learn precisely how the service needs to be established and operationalized. Then they prepare services according to the needs they identified and work with the client to turn up services after a diligent testing phase. 

Once service is operational, the provider should shift to optimization mode. This means employing quality control and assurance, along with other customer experience management activities, to constantly re-examine what’s working, what’s not, and make ongoing, incremental improvements to their processes while keeping service aligned to the business’s changing needs.

To unpack the onboarding process further, we’ve broken down the general expectations at the “before,” “during,” and “after” stages.

Before onboarding: Assessment and service preparation

When outsourcing NOC support, the first step should always be the same: stepping back to analyze the business, your customers, and the support requirements ahead of you. This initial analysis enables your service provider to gather all the information needed to design the services in a way that strikes the perfect balance of capability and efficiency. The findings of the questions you can expect to be asked should directly inform the NOC’s organization and operationalization across all three essential elements: people, process, and platform. 

This assessment, or business analysis, has four main components:

  1. Gathering your support requirements (and/or those of your customers): It’s critical to start by understanding who and what will be supported in as much detail as possible. This first step of gathering support requirements 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.
  2. Determining necessary or desired service levels: Once your service provider knows exactly what they’ll be supporting, they should work closely with you to understand the service levels that govern that support. Here at INOC, for example, we employ a process for analyzing 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.
  3. Determining 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. A capable NOC service provider should ask you how NOC effectiveness and customer satisfaction are currently being measured, and what those metrics—or lack thereof—say about the state of support being provided in order to retain current strengths and seize opportunities to improve.
  4. Determining the total cost of ownership: In the context of new NOC service, the two most prominent figures factoring into the TCO are establishing and maintaining the platform and labor cost to support it. 

During onboarding: turning up service

Reaping the benefits that come with a highly capable, operationally-mature NOC without having to endure the typical onboarding headaches requires a well-defined process and a commitment to adhere to it. It also means committing to diligent communication at each stage, ensuring both sides are clear on what’s happening and when.

Here at INOC, we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into developing and refining an onboarding process that ensures a successful transition to outsourced NOC service without creating headaches and needlessly time-intensive work. The process graphic below offers a look at the nine steps we take to onboard new NOC clients.

Read our post, Onboarding Outsourced NOC Support: 9 Steps to Success, for a deeper dive into what you can expect as a client going through this process and tips you can use to prepare accordingly.

NOC onboarding process


Since onboarding is such a critical step in transitioning to third-party NOC support, be sure the service provider you trust with protecting and optimizing your infrastructure offers a dedicated service turnup team that walks you through our process with helpful tools to keep everyone aligned. 

In terms of a timeline to service transition, we typically get clients up and running on our award-winning NOC in four to eight weeks. Once you’re up, you should also be given access to a client portal to see what the NOC is tracking in real time. Access to actionable metrics helps both teams benchmark performance and determine the root cause of ongoing issues for more effective resolution and prevention.

After onboarding: Change Management, Continual Service Improvement, and Customer Experience Management

Once NOC service is officially turned up and running optimally, your NOC service provider should transition you from a focus on onboarding to Change Management and Continual Service Improvement as part of its broader Customer Experience Management program.

Its Change Management specialists should have robust processes to both proactively check in on and reactively field notices of changes in your environment so they can be effectively managed in the NOC. Your NOC provider should also put ITIL’s Continual Service Improvement principles into practice—constantly looking for ways to:

  • Assess the NOC’s ongoing success in delivering effective ITSM
  • Ensure that the IT service catalog is continuously aligned with current and future business needs
  • Identify and act on opportunities to improve each service, thereby optimizing speed and effectiveness while boosting process maturity

Your service provider should be able to demonstrate quality control and assurance measures that work proactively to keep most concerns off your radar entirely. Here at INOC, for example, we pull large samples of both specific and random tickets to understand how they were created, worked, and closed to learn from successes, identify opportunities for improvement, and understand any potential impact on service.

Read our post, ITIL CSI: A Guide and Checklist for IT Support and the NOC, for a deeper dive into why CSI is critical in the NOC and what to look for in a prospective service provider.

A Few Key Considerations

  • Make sure any prospective NOC service provider begins their service engagement with an assessment commensurate with the level of support they’ll be providing.
  • Make sure any prospective NOC service provider has a documented and well-resourced process. 
  • Is the CSI team trusting or challenging their assumptions about the need and nature of improvement opportunities?
  • Is the CSI team conducting research and working cross-functionally to better understand the best way to make improvements?
  • If CSI is entrusted to an outsourced NOC support provider, are they working directly with you, their client, to gather information, develop a strategy, and set expectations?
  • Is the CSI team clearly defining desired outcomes so they can definitively validate an improvement’s success or failure?
  • Does the NOC have the data repositories and metrics established to both collect the right reporting data to avoid red herrings and provide reliable benchmarks for measuring improvement results?
  • Is the CSI team setting quantifiable measurements for success?
  • Is CSI guided by a documented plan that helps all impacted parties communicate and understand expectations?
  • Does CSI go above and beyond ITIL’s best practices to deliver a higher level of Customer Experience Management?

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7Key Questions to Ask Yourself and a Prospective NOC Provider

Questions for self-assessment—how much do you stand to gain from outsourcing NOC support?

  • How would you rate your NOC’s overall service design and operation?
  • Have you implemented a service catalog detailing the services your NOC performs?
  • How would you characterize the utilization of your valuable technical resources?
  • Do you use service level management to set your service level agreements and service level objectives? Do you report performance on a regular basis?
  • Do you track changes to your infrastructure and have a change review process?
  • When onboarding new components into your NOC, do you follow a process to review those changes and ensure they are consistent and accurate?
  • What percentage of issues does your Tier 1 response team currently handle, and how does that number make you feel?
  • Do you continually review incidents for opportunities to improve operations and tools?
  • Does your NOC have the appropriate support personnel to assist with process flow, technology, and improvements in responsiveness?

Questions for assessing prospective NOC service providers—do they have what it takes to deliver outstanding support?

  • Do they provide full-service 24x7 support?
  • Is their NOC based in the United States or overseas?
  • Are NOC services this provider’s primary business or is it supplementary to something else?
  • Do they offer both shared and dedicated support models—thereby enabling economies of scale or the dedicated resources we need?
  • Will their NOC platform integrate with our existing tools and infrastructure without forcing changes upon us or creating risk?
  • Can they demonstrate success in supporting organizations like ours?
  • Do they have an adequately comprehensive business continuity plan and redundancy in place?
  • Do they offer a robust client portal with convenient visibility into the state of our support?
  • Do they offer runbook development services and manage runbooks as a component of service?
  • Are alerts and escalations handled in a way that doesn’t disrupt our current operations?
  • Do they offer a full service catalog?
  • Does their speed and effectiveness in detecting, diagnosing, and remediating issues reflect our needs?
  • Will they open and manage vendor and carrier tickets?
  • How fast can they establish service? 
  • Is the outsourced NOC price fixed, tiered, or will it vary with usage?

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Have questions? Want to learn more about building, optimizing, or outsourcing your NOC?

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Our NOC consultations are tailored to your needs, whether you’re looking for outsourced NOC support or operations consulting for a new or existing NOC. No matter where our discussion takes us, you’ll leave with clear, actionable takeaways that inform decisions and move you forward. Here are some common topics we might discuss:

  • Your support goals and challenges
  • Assessing and aligning NOC support with broader business needs
  • NOC operations design and tech review
  • Guidance on new NOC operations
  • Questions on what INOC offers and if it’s a fit for your organization
  • Opportunities to partner with INOC to reach more customers and accelerate business together
  • Turning up outsourced support on our 24x7 NOC
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*Originally developed by the UK government’s Office of Government Commerce (OGC) - now known as the Cabinet Office - and currently managed and developed by AXELOS, ITIL is a framework of best practices for delivering efficient and effective support services.

 

Contributors to this guide

 

Prasad Ravi
Co-Founder/CEO, INOC
Prasad Rao
Co-Founder/President/COO, INOC
Jim Martin
VP of Technology, INOC
Hal Baylor
Director of Business Development, INOC
Ben Cone
Senior Solutions Engineer, INOC
Liz Jones-Queensland
Communications and Learning Manager, INOC

 

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