Keeping control in a crisis, the DNA way

This is the story all about how life (at a telecom control room) got flipped-turned upside down…in just a matter of days.

Written: Apr 2020

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“The Management Centre is the heart of DNA’s production. If it coughs, everyone else coughs, too,” says Director Tuomo Rikman with a twinkle in his eye.

In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, it’s as apt a metaphor as you’ll find.

Rikman leads the Management Centre at Finnish telco, DNA. Sitting heavily on his shoulders is responsibility for monitoring the operational capability of Telenor-owned DNA’s networks and services.

As you’ve probably already read, networks across the globe have been put under unprecedented pressure due to the global pandemic. For DNA alone, data and call volumes increased by several dozens of percentages due to most of a country suddenly working and studying at home.

With that sort of dependence, it’s more than a little scary to imagine a scenario where network services fail while supporting a society in crisis. Rikman is under no illusions as to how serious it could be.

“If emergency calls fail for some reason, it can be a matter of life and death. Our own actions thus enable the operations of authorities, and there can be a lot at stake,” he says.

The big turnaround

Around twenty people work in the Management Centre, ensuring that data is transferred, TV can be viewed and calls can be made on DNA’s network throughout Finland. Typically, the group works in two separate teams: one consisting of specialists and the other of Management Centre operators. The operators work in 12-hour shifts around the clock every day of the year – or ‘24/7/365’, the term used by Group Manager, Visa Urpelainen.

“On weekdays, we take care of critical tasks but also work that is less urgent, such as maintenance authorisations, communication on maintenance and network testing,” Urpelainen says. “On weekends and at nights, we focus on monitoring and managing acute incidents and the related communication.”

Cocoa and chairs: decentralising the Management Centre

The Coronavirus situation is now clearly present in the daily operations of the Management Centre. The control room was split into three to maintain reliable operations, the original Management Centre was divided into separate physical addresses and the third group started working remotely. Thankfully, as Urpelainen tells us, preparedness is very much a way of work around here.

A telecom operators’ control room is an advanced technical setup, but prepared for crisis the team was able to split and move to new addresses.

“We have been practicing for exceptional situations already for years. Our processes and the priority of various critical tasks is clear. We built the temporary facilities already years ago,” Urpelainen says.

Proof in the pudding: it took just four working days to carry out the physical split. That’s no small feat when you consider the technical complexity of a control room. None the less, all the paraphernalia required to enable long-term working such as chairs, tables, refrigerators and even microwaves. The temporary facilities already had almost all the required equipment except one thing.

“Everything in the new Management Centre is otherwise fine, but we forgot to take our cocoa when we moved,” Rikman says and laughs. Urpelainen is quick to interject: the cocoa is already on the way.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had”

It’s not just workplaces that need to be flexible right now. The exceptional situation also requires an agile mindset from the employees. According to Tomi Suokas, a strong team spirit and the mutual trust inherent in the team meant the exceptional measures were adopted without a fuss.

Tomi Suokas started at DNA’s customer service already in 2011 and transferred later to technical support. Eighteen months ago he decided to apply for the position of Management Centre operator.

“I didn’t hesitate at all when they asked us to be flexible regarding our work shifts due to the exceptional measures caused by coronavirus,” he says. “Everyone understood immediately what it means. This is the best job I’ve ever had.”

It may also be the most important.

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