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December 7, 2023

The 5 benefits of using runbook automation for IT operations

By implementing runbook automation, IT operations teams can more effectively manage IT disaster recovery, cyber recovery, cloud migration, technology implementation and release management, increasing operational efficiency and reducing risks.  

Here, we’ll explain what runbook automation is and the five key benefits of using it for IT operations. 

What is runbook automation?

A runbook is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide that outlines the tasks and their dependencies that are required to perform a specific task or process. Runbooks are generally utilized by IT operations, system administration, and other relevant departments to ensure that processes are executed consistently, accurately, and in alignment with current best practices.

Runbook automation naturally refers to the practice of automating runbooks — either partially or completely, depending on the runbook and the nature of the task at hand. Automation is generally leveraged for:

  • Repetitive tasks: Used to address repetitive tasks such as server provisioning, software deployment, and data backups — in turn, freeing up IT staff and resources. 
  • Time-sensitive tasks: Whether time sensitivity arises due to a crisis situation or not, automation can help to ensure that critical, time-pressured operations, such as IT disaster recovery, are executed promptly and accurately.
  • Error-prone tasks: Given the propensity for human error while completing important tasks, runbook automation works to both reduce these errors and their associated financial and resource impacts. Commonly automated error-prone tasks include configuration changes and data migrations; generally those of a more complex, nuanced nature. 
  • Complex tasks:  When it comes to complex and critical activities such as cyber recovery, both human expertise and judgment plus effective automation are needed to ensure a timely response.

The benefits of runbook automation

Here are five key benefits of runbook automation:

1)  Collaboration between people and technology

One of the most significant advantages of automated runbooks is emerging where the role of people is valued, recognized, and incorporated into the process. Enterprises need to expand their automation processes, not to just execute repetitive tasks, but to include people’s judgment and awareness across the enterprise. The orchestration between humans and technology needs to be fully automated as some of the tasks require judgment and the interpretation of data, bringing people into the process where they can be most impactful. 

Runbook automation encompasses the orchestration of human and machine activities to give you a way of capturing the process end-to-end to ensure that things are done in the right order and that you have a complete data set. This makes for better processes that elevate the involvement of teams, can handle more volatility, and are more fault tolerant and therefore more resilient.

2) Improved incident recovery time

Runbook automation can be leveraged to automate the repetitive steps involved in recovering from unforeseen incidents. Whether this pertains to recovering an application or service after an unexpected power failure, or restoring data from a backup, runbook automation can help to reduce the time it takes to restore systems back to their last known good state. 

Practically, consider a data center outage. Upon an external trigger indicating a system/application failure, automated runbooks can be configured to automatically start the server recovery process, which includes tasks such as checking hardware health and initiating Ansible provisioning scripts. In turn, the saved time via automation acts as a catalyst for reducing downtime and mitigating the costs associated with service disruptions. 

3) Improved regulatory compliance procedures

Regulatory compliance can be challenging when organizations are relying on manually-compiled audit logs and have little visibility into what has happened and when during an event. Regulatory requirements are continuing to increase, creating a greater burden on these organizations.

An automated runbook platform can automatically record what steps were taken and by whom during a recovery or release, providing an immutable source of data to use for regulatory reporting. This removes the need for teams to spend a lot of time and effort reconstructing what happened after an event from potentially unreliable or incomplete sources.

4) Improved efficiency

Runbook automation, by its very nature, enhances operational efficiency in the following ways: 

  • Time savings: When repetitive, time-sensitive, and error-prone tasks are automated, it frees up resources and, in turn, contributes toward organizational health.
  • Scalability: Runbook automation scales seamlessly, accommodating increasing and varying workloads without requiring a corresponding increase in staff.  
  • Consistency: Automated runbooks help teams complete processes precisely according to predefined parameters and best practices. This consistency ensures uniform task execution, reducing variations and potential inconsistencies that may lead to further problems. 
  • Resource optimization: By removing the orchestration burden for managers, runbook automation frees people up to do more valuable tasks instead of being stuck on bridge calls or having to constantly manage communications.
  • Prompt decision making: Via real-time insights and data, a runbook automation platform enables faster data-driven decision making, avoiding the need for people to make uninformed decisions that could create further problems. 

5) Enhanced visibility

Enhanced visibility touches on various domains: Task monitoring and tracking, audit trails, performance analytics, customizable reporting, and communication and collaboration, among other factors that drive efficiency and transparency within an organization.

An automated runbook platform enhances visibility through real-time dashboards and reporting that provide a centralized single-source-of-truth view of ongoing processes, their current statuses, and how progress is tracking against planned timings, helping stakeholders to make informed decisions. 

When to use runbook automation

Understanding when to implement runbook automation requires you to have a grasp on the high-level runbook creation process and the role automation plays within it. Here is that creation process:

Step 1: Complete an internal audit 

Allocate time for a comprehensive assessment of your department’s processes to discern the areas which may benefit from a runbook automation — either the creation of a new runbook or the optimization of existing ones. Repetitive processes, routine procedures, and tasks with high error rates are all suitable candidates. 

Step 2: Build your runbook 

Create a detailed step-by-step plan that codifies the necessary tasks while taking into account the dependencies between tasks and the critical path to ensure that the plan flows correctly. Consider the following when building your runbook: 

  • Clarity: Ensure that each step is described in a clear and concise manner, avoiding unnecessary jargon or technical language that may cause ambiguities. 
  • Dependencies: If one step relies on the completion of another, ensure that these dependencies are set correctly in the runbook. 
  • Stakeholders: Ensure each task is assigned to the right person and that all the relevant stakeholders within an organization who are responsible for the initiation and operation of each step of the runbook have the right access and permissions.  
  • Version control: Establish a version control system for your runbooks. This is much easier to do in a centralized runbook repository where the latest version is always the one that is available, rather than in static documents or spreadsheets where old versions may still be circulated.

Step 3: Automate

It’s at this stage in the runbook process that automation and integration comes into play: Streamline your runbooks by automating manual tasks through integrations that seamlessly fit into your existing technology stack. Consider the following when undertaking automation: 

Task selection: Identify tasks within the runbook that are repetitive, time-consuming, and/or prone to human error, as these are prime candidates for automation. Furthermore, focus on tasks that can be simply executed by scripts, workflows, and other related automation tools. 

Testing and validation: Before deploying automation, thoroughly test your scripts and workflows in a controlled, non-production environment to validate that they perform as expected and can handle various scenarios.

Following deployment, consider training stakeholders to ensure that they understand the automation’s nature and its triggers, and how to respond if issues arise. Furthermore, manage access controls and permissions: Only authorized personnel should have the ability to initiate or modify the automation measures. 

Step 4: Improve runbooks periodically 

As your technology estate and organization change, you will need to periodically audit and adjust your runbooks. You may also want to consider taking feedback from users, encouraging them to provide feedback on the runbook’s usability, clarity, and effectiveness as it pertains to their role. 

Furthermore, utilize performance metrics to assess the automation’s usefulness. In monitoring key performance indicators, look to identify trends and anomalies that may warrant adjustments. 

Cutover’s automated runbook technology makes a difference

You can work faster and smarter with Cutover’s runbook automation capabilities. 

Our automated runbook platform seamlessly integrates with your existing technology stack via REST API, including commonly used platforms such as Jira, ServiceNow and Jenkins. These integrations ensure that tasks involving these tools are readily accessible within your runbook, allowing you to efficiently manage all your work from a unified centralized source. 

The Cutover platform enables you to harmonize and consolidate all the tools you use for IT disaster recovery, cyber recovery, cloud migration, technology implementation and release workflows: Whether it’s project management tools like Jira, build tools like Ansible or communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, Cutover’s automation runbooks enhance your operational efficiency by providing a single, centralized execution engine. 

With Cutover, automated processes seamlessly complement human-driven actions, fostering agility and collaboration for teams — regardless of whether they are operating in the cloud or on-premises. 

You can read through our Automation Runbooks Fact Sheet by clicking here. Or, if you’re already a Cutover customer, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Customer Success Manager for personalized runbook insights. If you’re interested in how Cutover can enhance your IT operations and provide greater visibility through automation, reach out to info@cutover.com to enquire and set up a demo.

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