7 Key Reasons Why a Managed Services Operational Runbook Should Be Part of Every Digital Transformation Plan

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Would you run a Michelin star restaurant without recipes? Or fix a car without the manual? Or take command of a military unit with all its moving parts without a transition plan? If you’re like most people, the answer is no.

So then why would you go live with a mission-critical business system implementation without an operational runbook? That’s the real question. And it happens more than you think.

As a managed services professional, whose job is to support and fix implementations for companies who do not have an operational runbook, the most common reason I hear is money. The customer didn’t build it into the budget at the onset of the project because they didn’t understand the ROI, which is an important first step in realizing the value.

I find that if the true value of a complete and effective operational runbook is communicated and understood during project planning, everyone would see — in the long run — it actually saves them time, money, and resources. They would also see it greatly minimizes the risk of unplanned downtime, unhappy customers, and even failure of the whole implementation (due to a poor transition from full project support to post-go-live daily operations).

What is an operational runbook?

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. You might be wondering “what is an operational runbook?” It’s a detailed, how-to, living guide that provides you with comprehensive best practices for system maintenance. It covers everything you need to know about an implementation — from technical details on your environments to security permissions to how to manage product updates to troubleshooting and much more.

It really gives you a single source of truth and the big picture of your implementation. When done right, an operational runbook is an amazing everyday resource that ensures operational readiness, a smoother and more stable transition to the maintenance team, continuity of performance going forward, and a roadmap for the future.

At Hitachi Solutions, our operational runbook is developed to provide direction for users, after project work is completed and they are transitioning to day-to-day operations — with or without 24/7 ongoing managed services support. It’s a dynamic, hands-on document that is updated, augmented, and always current.

From our nearly 20 years of real-world experience implementing Microsoft business and cloud solutions for our customers, we know the depth and breadth that’s needed to properly document a deployment. That’s why the scope of our operational runbook is uniquely comprehensive and includes:

  • End-to-end navigation workflow
  • Incident management
  • Environment overview
  • Operational tasks
  • Triage business-critical process flows
  • User security permission configurations
  • Proactive monitoring
  • Integration issue triage
  • Post GO-LIVE support, including ISV implications

Top reasons why you need it

A formal operational runbook is a valuable asset for the company, ensuring product owners, IT, operations, security, help desk, support, future project managers, and others have everything they need to know about the implementation. It is also secure, centralized, complete, and accessible — a shared resource for everyone who needs it. With more and more agile projects that don’t include documentation, this is especially important today. Other reasons include:

  1. Redundancy

    Most managers and developers keep their own notes about a project. However, today’s implementations are big and complex, and most people don’t collaborate or share their notes. People leave, forget, and notes get lost. And when they’re gone, their knowledge — and information — is gone as well. A runbook never leaves you, refreshes memories, and gets new people up to speed quickly.
  2. Operational Readiness

    Even when a project is successfully delivered, there needs to be an operational plan going forward to ensure continuity, complete knowledge transfer, and a smooth transition. A runbook makes it clear who’s doing what, who’s responsible for what, and what the escalation processes are after the delivery team leaves. Without a runbook, a post-go-live hand-off can go south fast.  
  3. Maintenance

    No matter who will be supporting the system going forward — the delivery partner’s managed services, a third-party organization, the internal IT team, or a combination — having a runbook makes maintenance faster, easier, and less expensive. It’s a complete system blueprint that also documents routine and common tasks so they can be performed in a consistent manner, reducing lapses and time spent on tasks and minimizing errors.
  4. Planning

    Having a runbook helps remind people to plan for, and schedule, key annual and monthly tasks that can be easily forgotten but cause a lot of chaos if not known or done in a timely manner. Renewing security certificates and updating security access permissions are just two critical things that come to mind and strike fear into the heart of every product owner and IT/operations/security manager.
  5. Integrations

    Most implementations have several integrations to other business-critical systems — payroll is a big one that comes to mind. When integrations break, it can be a nightmare if not documented well. Who do you call? What’s their contact information? What’s happening on their end? How do we fix it? Figuring all of this out takes time and costs money. With a runbook, all that information is always at your fingertips.
  6. Troubleshooting

    When issues arise, having a dynamic runbook is invaluable. It empowers response teams to be more efficient and effective. It gives them a head start, a jumping-off point to finding and understanding the problem, cutting down response times, and allowing them to solve issues faster. You don’t need the original resource who might be on vacation, busy on another project or left the company. And because the runbook is a living entity, as issues happen, the fixes, shortcuts, workarounds, and tips and tricks can all be recorded for future use.
  7. Future Support

    We hear from clients all the time they want to be more hands-on and take over more of the managing of their implementation over time. To which we say “great!” The runbook gives them the capability to do this. It is excellent for training their help desk people, ramping up new employees, and more. Customers can figure out exactly who and what they need to support their system with a runbook.

Why you should add it into the project budget early

As you can see, the value of an operational runbook is huge when it comes to preparing you for life post-go-live. It provides a complete guide for everyone who needs to understand and support your solution going forward. Other benefits include:

  • Continuity
  • Optimized performance
  • Happier stakeholders, users, customers
  • Less downtime, faster problem resolution
  • Continuous improvement and growth

When planning and budgeting for implementation, you don’t want it to be an afterthought. That would allow your IT department to get caught in the crosshairs of a transition unprepared.

Also, building the runbook while you are building the implementation adds the most value. That’s because you are gathering all the information upfront, while the whole project team, on both sides, is still engaged. Getting all that first-hand knowledge at the time it’s happening is much easier, and less costly, than going back after the fact. The knowledge is fresher, more complete, and more accurate.

The reality is, that you will need something like a runbook sooner or later. Addressing the need upfront saves you time and money, as well as a lot of pain and frustration.

Ensure smooth, stable, successful support

People come and go but having a complete handle on your system, no matter what, is invaluable. It’s an insurance policy on the success of the implementation.

Check out this quote I recently got from one of our customers. It illustrates the value of an operational runbook perfectly:

“The Operational Runbook has been an invaluable reference during transitions, projects, and support by providing a clear outline of our system components, operations, and integration. There is the detail needed for daily operations, such as user administration, as well as detailed technical descriptions, which include integration beyond the Hitachi (Solutions) application and clear server or system labels.”

If you’d like to learn more about Hitachi Solutions Managed Services, and how we can help you create an operational runbook or provide ongoing support to your solution, give us a call.