Runbook Automation | What It Is & How To Do It

Myra Nizami

Looking into runbook automation? We explain how runbook automation works, with examples and tips on how to use it to streamline your incident response process.

What is runbook automation?

A runbook is a guide for handling common tasks within a specific process. Adding automation to runbooks allows the steps and checks of the runbook to execute automatically, leading to faster and more consistent results..

Runbook automation is used for incident management, service reports, emergency protocols, and other key business processes. 

How does runbook automation work? 

Runbook automation is a way to automate workflows and reduce manual commands. It’s a way to implement operations procedures with very little intervention. You can find additional resources for runbook automation best practices here to design your own. 

Pre-Assigned Processes

Think of runbook automation as a tool that enables teams to automatically run the correct runbook based on the task. IT systems can be configured to attach relevant runbooks based on the problem at hand. That reduces a lot of the manual work related to incident response since there is no need to look for guidance, optimizing efficiency. Taking it one step further, teams can also automate runbook tasks to become self-service operations. That way, teams only need to focus on more complex issues and let incident response be as automated as possible. 

Examples of Runbook Automation

Teams can set up runbook automation for simple tasks like data health checks at the end of every day or service checks throughout the day. Organizations can also use runbook automation for complex processes like incident management by setting up parameters like pre-event triggers. These allow runbooks to change the steps they take based on information they get from the incident. 

Why is runbook automation important?

Without runbook automation, teams will likely have a scattered process for incident management and service requests. Solving any kind of issue likely requires a deep dive into old process documents that don’t have any sort of standardization or where there is an overreliance on ad-hoc tools that don’t really help. Teams often end up escalating the issue unnecessarily as information isn’t widely available.

The result? Bottlenecks, slow response times, unhappy customers, and more disruptions than there should be.

Faster Response Times

Runbook automation enables teams to work better and smarter when incidents occur. Instead of only having a select few on the team perform operations, runbook automation ensures that key tasks happen without needing any specific responders. If set up correctly, runbook automation has a lot of benefits for teams.

Fewer Barriers to Getting Things Done

Runbook automation means fewer barriers to getting things done. For example, you don’t necessarily need to wait on team members for approval, support, or instructions, because everything you need is already available to you. The faster you can resolve an issue, the sooner customers can return to their usual workflow, and you can mitigate any negative impacts on the business.

Frees up Team Resources

Runbook automation can free up resources and time. Service requests and incident management runbook automation means teams aren’t bogged down in repetitive work. Only the truly high-priority issues get precedence, making incident response time shorter. Runbook automation gives teams an easy way to streamline their workload without negatively impacting customers. 

What are some tools I can use for runbook automation?

There are several different types of tools used for runbook automation. Ideally, you’re looking for solutions that enable event-driven automation and work both on-premises and on the cloud. Runbook automation tools should also have self-documenting capabilities so teams can check workflows and have the documentation needed for incident management. 

Some of the tool types for runbook automation include:

  • Automation harness: A hub that brings together scripts, tools, or APIs and lets users configure these resources workflow that can execute automatically.
  • Guardrails: Guardrails are used for access control and usability. Access control guardrails are used for user permissions and auditing. Usability would lean more towards guidance and minimizing the need for extensive training. 
  • Dynamic infrastructure map: Dynamic infrastructure maps streamline the different elements of infrastructure to help create targeted automation. 

Runbook automation tools

Some of the more common runbook automation tools include:

  • Rundeck: Create automated runbooks and give selected users self-service access to handle incident management as needed.
  • IBM Runbook Automation: Supports manual, semi-automated, and fully automated workflows with pre-event triggers configuration available.
  • Azure Automation Runbook Management: Used with PowerShell Workflow, the runbooks come with predefined scenarios based on PowerShell, so teams don’t need to create runbooks from scratch, and features to enable easy automation based on specific parameters. 
  • Octopus Deploy: Users can create, manage, execute and schedule runbooks in multiple environments.
  • Fujitsu Systemwalker Runbook Automation: Includes runbook automation features and task history, including manual activities like requests and approval to build audit trails. 
  • Runbook Automation: Enables automation across different environments and is also available on-premises and cloud infrastructure.

Each of these tools for runbook automation has different pros and cons, so it’s difficult to compare in a one-size-fits-all way. However, when evaluating runbook automation tools, it’s helpful to think about the processes and tasks that need to be automated, their complexity, environments, and current infrastructure.

How can Blameless help?

The Blameless SRE platform has the tools needed to enhance runbook automation. This includes checklists and reminders to create guardrails, helping with creating new automated runbooks, and documenting runbook activities in Blameless’ retrospective (commonly referred to as postmortems). In addition, Blameless reliability insights can also help identify opportunities for more automation. Learn more about how Blameless helps streamline and optimize reliability by checking out our demo.