What is COBIT? A framework for alignment and governance

What is COBIT?

COBIT is an IT management framework developed by the ISACA to help businesses develop, organize and implement strategies around information management and governance.

First released in 1996, COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies) was initially designed as a set of IT control objectives to help the financial audit community better navigate the growth of IT environments. In 1998, the ISACA released version 2, which expanded the framework to apply outside the auditing community. Later, in the 2000s, the ISACA developed version 3, which brought in the IT management and information governance techniques found in the framework today.

COBIT 4 was released in 2005, followed by COBIT 4.1 in 2007. These updates included more information regarding governance surrounding information and communication technology. In 2012, COBIT 5 was released and in 2013, the ISACA released an add-on to COBIT 5, which included more information for businesses regarding risk management and information governance.

What’s in COBIT 5?

COBIT 5 brings clarity to certain topics and concerns found in COBIT 4 and 4.1, as technology grows in the enterprise. The ISACA touts COBIT 5 as the “only business framework for the governance and management of enterprise IT.” It also plays nice with other IT management frameworks — such as ITIL, CMMI and TOGAF — making it a great option as an umbrella framework to unify processes across an entire company.

COBIT 5 was developed to address the growth of enterprise IT — looking at how existing best practices and standards work and what needs improvement or reframing. Like other IT management frameworks, COBIT helps align business goals with IT goals by establishing links between the two and creating a process that can help bridge a gap between IT — or IT silos — and outside departments. One major difference between COBIT and other frameworks is that it focuses specifically on security, risk management and information governance.

COBIT 5 goals and components

According to the ISACA, COBIT 5 was updated to:

  • Streamline information sharing across an organization
  • Reach corporate goals by incorporating IT into the strategy
  • Minimize and control information security and risk management
  • Optimize the cost surrounding IT and technology
  • Better integrate ISACA research and the COBIT framework

The five main components of COBIT 5 include:

  • Framework: The main framework of COBIT guides organizations through best practices and standardization surrounding IT processes and infrastructure. The goal is to align IT with the overall business goals by getting IT on the same page as the rest of the company and to help other executives and senior managers better understand IT objectives.
  • Process descriptions: COBIT includes language that anyone in the organization will understand — so that CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and other key players will easily understand terminology, processes and descriptions. It can help establish a solid ground for communication between IT and outside departments.
  • Control objectives: This section offers an overview of high-level requirements that can help develop and improve every IT process, allowing businesses to adapt these to their own needs and goals.
  • Management guidelines: The COBIT guide offers best practices for establishing objectives, process and assigning task items or responsibilities across the organization. It also gives guidance on measuring performance and how the framework can integrate with other IT management frameworks.
  • Maturity models: COBIT maturity models help businesses assess the maturity of their organization, understand how the process will grow with the organization and identify any potential problems that might arise down the line.

COBIT principles and benefits

The 5 key principles of COBIT 5, according to the ISACA:

  • Meet key stakeholder needs
  • Cover the enterprise end-to-end
  • Integrate multiple frameworks into one umbrella framework
  • Encourage a holistic approach to business
  • Move governance away from management

According to the ISACA, the COBIT 5 best suits clients that use multiple frameworks — such as ITIL, ISO/IEC 2000 and CMI — with certain silos within IT using their own framework or standard. It’s also well suited to organizations that are required to follow specific regulatory guidelines from the government and local authorities.

The COBIT 5 framework helps businesses align existing frameworks in the organization and understand how each framework will fit into the overall strategy. It can also help businesses monitor the performance of these other frameworks, especially in terms of security compliance, information security and risk management.

It’s also designed to give senior management more insight into how technology can align with organizational goals. You can directly map pain points in the business to certain aspects of the framework, emphasizing the need for “control-driven IT,” according to the ISACA. The framework gives CIOs and other IT executives a way to demonstrate the ROI on an IT project and how it will help reach key business objectives.

COBIT certification

You can get certified in COBIT 5 through the ISACA, which offers training and exams with two different paths: the Assessor Path or the Implementation Path. Both paths require you to complete a foundational course and exam before you choose which path you want to take.

The Implementation Path teaches you how to apply the COBIT 5 framework to specific business problems, potential risks and other process issues within the organization. To obtain this level of certification, you need to complete the foundation course, exam and implementation course.  

The Assessor Path teaches you to look at your organization’s established processes and identify what can be changed, what works and how to communicate your findings to the C-suite. To become a COBIT Certified Assessor, you will need to complete the foundational course and exam, followed by the assessor course and exam. You’ll also need a minimum of five years of relevant work experience.

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