August 31, 2023
Increasing Digital Velocity With Automation Guardrails
Automation guardrails enable organizations to reach new levels of efficiency and digital transformation without compromising on quality, security or compliance.
Automation is a game-changing technology for companies looking to keep up with the fast-paced nature of business. By automating repetitive, time-consuming, or error-prone tasks, organizations can save time, improve productivity, and enable employees to focus on more creative and strategic tasks.
However, for automation to work smoothly with minimal risk, “guardrails” must be in place to ensure there is adequate control and best practices are followed. Guardrails keep automation on track by defining clear boundaries, guidelines, access controls and limits for automated processes, while ensuring these safeguards don't slow things down.
Understanding Third-Party Risks and Obligations
While automation eliminates the need for a human to perform a task, guardrails ensure that checks and balances are still followed. Guardrails can ensure compliance with industry regulations and internal policies, while also reducing security risk and improving quality.
For example, instead of having to get together as a group to review software development changes, mechanisms can be put in place to safely roll out changes automatically without the need for employees to meet and discuss.
Here are some other examples of how guardrails can be used in automation:
Audit logs: Create a record of all automated actions to support troubleshooting and compliance.
Cost limiting: Estimate costs of new resources in line with automation and set thresholds that trigger actions like reviews or approvals.
Data validation: Validate and verify data inputs before processing to ensure data accuracy.
Drift detection: Identify configuration drift and automatically reconfigure or replace resources that are out of compliance.
Dynamic and short-lived credentials: Limit the number and permissions of individuals who have access to systems. Generate credentials dynamically that have a brief time to live reducing the possibility of compromised identities.
Emergency stop mechanism: Incorporate an emergency stop mechanism to halt automated processes immediately when severe issues or unintended consequences are detected.
Monitoring and analytics: Set up monitoring tools to track the performance and impact of automation, helping identify areas for improvement and ensuring everything runs smoothly.
Resource limits: Define how much resources may be used for automation processes to prevent them from monopolizing resources, such as RAM and CPU, and affecting other tasks.
Security scanning tooling: Scan templates and code for secrets, misconfigurations and vulnerable dependencies to identify risks before resources can be built.
Time-based triggers: Limit certain automation processes to specific time windows to avoid interfering with crucial business operations or peak usage times.
Various testing types: Testing and validation for expected behavior at multiple points during integration and delivery of applications and automation is crucial. It is a broad topic that deserves its own exploration, but as an automation guardrail, testing is responsible for ensuring that changes are made safely, and that automation is validated with applications and supporting resources to ensure desired behaviors.
Version control: Record changes to files to track revisions, enable the ability to revert to previous versions and enable better collaboration among automation developers.
Supporting Technologies for Automation
In addition to implementing automation guardrails, there are other technologies organizations can implement to support improved efficiency while mitigating risk.
Infrastructure as Code (IaC): IaC is the provisioning, monitoring, and management of infrastructure resources, such as servers, networks, containers, virtual machines and more, automatically through code instead of manual processes.
This greatly improves efficiency as cloud environments have led to more complex environments with more pieces to manage. By writing the desired state of infrastructure into code, developers no longer need to manually configure infrastructure, leading to improved consistency and faster deployment due to the ability to test applications alongside infrastructure they were created to run on. Essentially, IaC is a set of principles that enforce automation guardrails.
Policy as Code (PaC): PaC involves defining, updating and enforcing policies for an organization’s technology environment using code. These policies, or automation guardrails, are rules and conditions that govern processes and operations and can be used to automatically enforce security and compliance procedures, access controls, governance and more to reduce human error. PaC can eliminate the need to constantly check for compliance manually, and ensures that any issues are identified earlier in the build and deployment phase of software delivery.
Implement the Right Automation Mix for Your Organization
There are many popular tools and frameworks for implementing automation guardrails, PaC, and IaC. Organizations should focus on identifying their unique processes and use cases to find appropriate tools that best fit their immediate needs and long-term goals.
It is also important to ensure the tools you select are not specific to a single cloud provider, unless that is what your organization needs. It is better to learn and utilize one tool than an assortment of tools due to incompatibility and limitations with other vendors.
By implementing automation guardrails, organizations can ensure that their automation initiatives are carried out responsibly, securely and efficiently, while minimizing potential risks and maximizing the benefits of automation.
Story by Kyle Jepson and Rolf Reitzig