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User-friendly IT governance

User-friendly IT governance

A new version of Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (Cobit), an IT governance framework, is better organized and provides clearer links between IT processes and business goals -- improvements that make this tool something CIOs should seriously consider using, says Craig Symons, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Cobit, issued by the IT Governance Institute (ITGI), is a set of guidelines IT organizations can use to employ management best practices, measure IT processes and align IT with business processes. It has become a recommended tool for IT departments to measure their value to the business, as well as comply with regulations such as ­Sarbanes-Oxley.

Yet Cobit isn't widely used: Less than half of the CIOs in the financial services industry, where Cobit is most popular, are even aware of the guidelines, according to ITGI's own assessment.

The reason? Since it was created in 1996, Cobit has expanded to cover so many control objectives and management guidelines that it's difficult to make sense of them. A Cobit Primer issued by the Sandia National Laboratories in June 2005 lamented: "Of the possible objectives, on which do you spend the effort, and which do you ignore?"

Answering that question has become much easier, Symons says, thanks to Cobit 4.0. The authors have done away with Cobit's multiple volumes, integrating the information about all 34 high-level control processes, 239 detailed control objectives and related management guidelines into one volume. What's more, the material is organized by how one approaches projects: First, plan and organize, next, acquire and implement, then deliver and support, and finally, monitor and evaluate.

In addition, Symons says, Cobit 4.0 offers more details on how to measure whether IT processes are delivering what the business needs. For example, under the heading "defining a strategic plan" (one of the 34 high-level processes), Cobit outlines how to do that: Engage executives on alignment with business goals and develop a proactive process to quantify business requirements. "This is much more approachable and helpful than the previous version," Symons says.

Cobit 4.0 is available at www.itgi.org.

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