COBIT

COBIT 5 is the only business framework for the governance and management of enterprise IT. This evolutionary version incorporates the latest thinking in enterprise governance and management techniques, and provides globally accepted principles, practices, analytical tools and models to help increase the trust in, and value from, information systems. COBIT 5 builds and expands on COBIT 4.1 by integrating other major frameworks, standards and resources, including ISACA’s Val IT and Risk IT, Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) and related standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT) is a framework created by ISACA for information technology (IT) management and IT governance. It is a supporting toolset that allows managers to bridge the gap between control requirements, technical issues and business risks.

Overview

COBIT was first released in 1996; the current version, COBIT 5, was published in 2012. Its mission is “to research, develop, publish and promote an authoritative, up-to-date, international set of generally accepted information technology control objectives for day-to-day use by business managers, IT professionals and assurance professionals.”.

COBIT, initially an acronym for ‘Control objectives for information and related technology’, defines a set of generic processes to manage IT. Each process is defined together with process inputs and outputs, key process activities, process objectives, performance measures and an elementary maturity model. The framework supports governance of IT by defining and aligning business goals with IT goals and IT processes.

The COBIT framework

The framework provides good practices across a domain and process framework.

The business orientation of COBIT consists of linking business goals to IT goals, providing metrics and maturity models to measure their achievement, and identifying the associated responsibilities of business and IT process owners.

The process focus of COBIT 4.1 is illustrated by a process model that subdivides IT into four domains (Plan and Organize, Acquire and Implement, Deliver and Support, and Monitor and Evaluate) and 34 processes in line with the responsibility areas of plan, build, run and monitor. It is positioned at a high level and has been aligned and harmonized with other, more detailed, IT standards and good practices such as COSO, ITIL, ISO 27000, CMMI, TOGAF and PMBOK. COBIT acts as an integrator of these different guidance materials, summarizing key objectives under one umbrella framework that link the good practice models with governance and business requirements.

The COBIT 4.1 framework specification can be obtained as a complimentary PDF at the ISACA download website. (Free self-registration may be required.)

COBIT 5 was released in June 2012.COBIT 5 consolidates and integrates the COBIT 4.1, Val IT 2.0 and Risk IT frameworks, and draws from ISACA’s IT Assurance Framework (ITAF) and the Business Model for Information Security (BMIS). It aligns with frameworks and standards such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), PRINCE2 and The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF).

Releases

COBIT has had five major releases:

  • In 1996, the first edition of COBIT was released.
  • In 1998, the second edition added “Management Guidelines”.
  • In 2000, the third edition was released.
    • In 2003, an on-line version became available.
  • In December 2005, the fourth edition was initially released.
    • In May 2007, the current 4.1 revision was released.
  • COBIT 5 was released in June 2012. It consolidates and integrates the COBIT 4.1, Val IT 2.0 and Risk IT frameworks, and also draws significantly from the Business Model for Information Security (BMIS) and ITAF.

Components

The COBIT components include:

  • Framework: Organize IT governance objectives and good practices by IT domains and processes, and links them to business requirements
  • Process descriptions: A reference process model and common language for everyone in an organization. The processes map to responsibility areas of plan, build, run and monitor.
  • Control objectives: Provide a complete set of high-level requirements to be considered by management for effective control of each IT process.
  • Management guidelines: Help assign responsibility, agree on objectives, measure performance, and illustrate interrelationship with other processes
  • Maturity models: Assess maturity and capability per process and helps to address gaps.

Other ISACA Publications based on the COBIT framework include:

  • Board Briefing for IT Governances, 2nd Edition
  • COBIT and Application Controls
  • COBIT Control Practices, 2nd Edition
  • IT Assurance Guide: Using COBIT
  • Implementing and Continually Improving IT Governance
  • COBIT Quickstart, 2nd Edition
  • COBIT Security Baseline, 2nd Edition
  • IT Control Objectives for Sarbanes-Oxley, 2nd Edition
  • IT Control Objectives for Basel II
  • COBIT User Guide for Service Managers
  • COBIT Mappings (to ISO/IEC 27002, CMMI, ITIL, TOGAF, PMBOK etc.)
  • COBIT Online

COBIT and Sarbanes-Oxley

Companies that are publicly traded in the US are subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. According to the IIA, COBIT is one of the most commonly used frameworks to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley.

Benefits

COBIT 5 helps enterprises of all sizes:

  • Maintain high-quality information to support business decisions
  • Achieve strategic goals and realize business benefits through the effective and innovative use of IT
  • Achieve operational excellence through reliable, efficient application of technology
  • Maintain IT-related risk at an acceptable level
  • Optimize the cost of IT services and technology
  • Support compliance with relevant laws, regulations, contractual agreements and policies

Simply stated, COBIT 5 helps enterprises create optimal value from IT by maintaining a balance between realising benefits and optimising risk levels and resource use.

COBIT 5 enables information and related technology to be governed and managed in a holistic manner for the entire enterprise, taking in the full end-to-end business and functional areas of responsibility, considering the IT-related interests of internal and external stakeholders.

The COBIT 5 principles and enablers are generic and useful for enterprises of all sizes, whether commercial, not-for-profit or in the public sector.

Governance ensures that enterprise objectives are achieved by evaluating stakeholder needs, conditions and options; setting direction through prioritisation and decision making; and monitoring performance, compliance and progress against agreed-on direction and objectives (EDM).

Managementplans, builds, runs and monitors activities in alignment with the direction set by the governance body to achieve the enterprise objectives (PBRM).

The five COBIT 5 principles:

1.Meeting Stakeholder Needs

2.Covering the Enterprise End-to-end

3.Applying a Single Integrated Framework

4.Enabling a Holistic Approach

5.Separating Governance From Management

 Enablers

COBIT is a framework developed for IT process management with a strong focus on control. These scales need to be practical to apply and reasonably easy to understand. The topic of IT process management is inherently complex and subjective and, therefore, is best approached through facilitated assessments that raise awareness, capture broad consensus and motivate improvement. These assessments can be performed either against the maturity level descriptions as a whole or with more rigour against each of the individual statements of the descriptions. Either way, expertise in the enterprise’s process under review is required.

The advantage of a maturity model approach is that it is relatively easy for management to place itself on the scale and appreciate what is involved if improved performance is needed. The scale includes 0 because it is quite possible that no process exists at all. The 0-5 scale is based on a simple maturity scale showing how a process evolves from a non-existent capability to an optimised capability.

However, process management capability is not the same as process performance. The required capability, as determined by business and IT goals, may not need to be applied to the same level across the entire IT environment, e.g., not consistently or to only a limited number of systems or units. Performance measurement,  is essential in determining what the enterprise’s actual performance is for its IT processes.

Although a properly applied capability already reduces risks, an enterprise still needs to analyse the controls necessary to ensure that risk is mitigated and value is obtained in line with the risk appetite and business objectives. These controls are guided by COBIT’s control objectives.

Although it is difficult to imagine today, there was a time in the not-too-distant past the term “governance” was not used so often or so freely. Based on Latin and Greek words referring to the steering of a ship, governance was a concept primarily restricted to the CEO’s office and the boardroom.

But several global business catastrophes over the last few decades brought the term to the forefront of business thinking. Massive trader fraud at Barings Bank and Société Générale uncovered a breakdown in the monitoring of internal processes. Enron’s phenomenal success was revealed to be due, in some measure, to systematic, long-term, organized accounting fraud. WorldCom, Global Crossing and Tyco followed, and soon there was a clear and widely accepted need for more rigorous governance over companies’ systems of internal control. Increasingly, legislation is being passed to address this need. Worldwide, regulations such as Basel II, the Canadian Privacy Act, HIPAA, Australia’s Corporate Law Economic Reform Program and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act have moved governance to the top of agendas at all layers within enterprises.

This demonstrates that, although the highly publicized enterprise meltdowns may have focused more attention on formalized systems of governance, considerable thought and exploration had already gone into the basic concepts. As stakeholder issues, corporate social responsibility, enterprise risk management and alliances became an increasingly critical component of enterprise success, many astute enterprise leaders realized the need for effective and efficient governance around these issues.

The various legislative acts mentioned above may have reinforced the already existing focus on governance, but they did not necessarily bring clarity to the topic. Different views of governance have arisen, leading to confusion on the relationships among them. How does corporate governance relate to enterprise governance? What about the differing views brought about by increased dependency on intellectual capital, people, information technology—isn’t there a need for governance of these as well? What governance principles apply to open collaboration (“wiki”) sites, whose multiple authors and shared intellectual property create muddied ownership issues? As governance issues have become increasingly complex and critical to the business, those who need to understand and apply these concepts often find themselves wishing “if only someone would put all this on a page, so I could see how it fits together.”

Governance—Beyond Compliance
Although compliance is a powerful driver, there are more profound reasons to implement effective and efficient governance. Enterprise complexity, corporate responsibility, transparency—all these facets of the current business environment bring challenges that governance can address. Among the other drivers for efficient and effective governance:

  • Transparency, as stakeholders wish to be aware of the decisions, mechanisms and results of the enterprises in which they have an interest
  • Enterprises’ need to practice and demonstrate corporate responsibility
  • Creation of the extended enterprise, as enterprises’ growing appreciation of the benefits of collaboration has led to an increasingly large and complex network of relationships and strategic partners (joint ventures, wiki partners, etc.), among which delegation of accountability and decision-making rights  must be accomplished
  • Multiple stakeholders’ varying understanding and acceptance of value and risk
  • Enterprises’ increased dependence on strategic assets (e.g., people, knowledge, communications infrastructure, energy infrastructure, intellectual capital, information technology, information) or on external parties (e.g., outsourcing, strategic alliances) and the critical need for 24/7 access to them.
  • Data and information are especially important assets, as they form the basis for informed business decisions; bad data can lead to bad decisions.

The end result is an increasingly complex web, characterized by multiple layers of detail, requirements and interdependencies. This initiative has been undertaken to help clarify and provide ways to maneuver through the governance maze.

The governance mapping initiative was undertaken for many reasons. In addition to gaining a better understanding of the governance space and how the many components fit together, the intent is to populate the resulting maps in ways that will help all organizations dealing with these topics gain a better comprehension of what and who are operating in the governance space. Ultimately, it is hoped that the final product will encourage and assist enterprises to apply effective and efficient governance concepts within their own structures.

The mapping will therefore provide enterprises with guidance on existing standards, frameworks and methodologies that can assist them in implementing effective governance quickly and efficiently, and that incorporate the best practices appropriate to them. Information plays a vital role in the space and fosters good communication among related parties for better governance.

Therefore, the long-term plan is to populate the map—starting with the version that features IT governance (since that is ITGI’s area of expertise)—with four basic types of information:

  1. The leading international guidance, standards and frameworks relating to the disciplines reflected on the map. It is not intended to include all the guidance documents that exist, at this stage. The first iterations of the map will focus on what are considered the “top” guidance documents.Many frameworks can apply to many areas on the map; this map places them where their primary focus lies.
    In addition to showing just the “alphabet soup” of acronyms, each listing will be linked to further information describing the issuing body, the general purpose of the guidance, and the ways in which it specifically addresses the space in the governance map to which it has been assigned. ITGI’s worldwide cadre of experts will make inroads into this, but ultimately external assistance will be requested.
  2. The people involved in each view of governance—specifically the roles, responsibilities, credentials and qualifications of each
  3. The organizations that offer complementary products or services in each area
  4. ITGI’s own products and service offerings. Other organizations may wish to do the same for their own portfolio.

The mapping and description of the relevant frameworks, standards and methodologies will provide enterprises with practical guidance on governance implementation by clarifying aspects such as:

  • The scope of the framework, standard or methodology (e.g., COBIT’s positioning as a comprehensive process and control framework covering all IT processes vis-à-vis The Open Group Architecture Framework’s [TOGAF] positioning within the enterprise architecture domain)
  • Particular suitability to specific industries (where these exist)
  • Expected benefits from the application of the relevant framework, standard or methodology
  • Current uptake and reach (e.g., global reach for Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission [COSO])