COBIT vs. ITIL: IT Governance With Structure

When it comes to IT, you can’t leave anything to chance. COBIT and ITIL provide IT governance standards and frameworks to keep your organization running cohesively.
August 15, 2022
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We are in an age with an abundance of information. Critical to controlling and managing the flow of data is information technology (IT), which has become foundational to business structures and practices. But without proper standards in place, you will lack organization and have trouble achieving your goals.

That’s where IT service management (ITSM) comes in. This is the practice of governing, managing, and delivering quality IT services to support you in meeting the needs of your customers and the organization as a whole. Two of the most popular standards, frameworks, or practices in this realm are Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). 

But what, exactly, is the difference between COBIT and ITIL? And when should you use each of them? Here’s a breakdown.

What Is the Difference Between ITIL and Cobit?

COBIT: A Brief Overview

COBIT is essentially a set of guidelines that provides a common structure and outline for defining and communicating the main variables involved in IT resources. Introduced in 1996, it’s widely applicable across industries, helping organizations with risk management and analysis, project control, technical complication, quality assurance and control, privacy concerns, system reliability, and more.

The COBIT methodology links IT objectives to the overarching business mission and goals, ensuring that IT resources complement the larger organization’s needs and objectives. This, ultimately, enables offering insight into IT functions from an executive level. The framework provides a means of applying a holistic approach while meeting the needs of all stakeholders.

The main components of COBIT are:

  • Control Objectives
  • Frameworks
  • Management Guidelines
  • Maturity Models 
  • Process Descriptions 

ITIL: A Brief Overview

ITIL conceptualizes IT services as a partnership. The framework gives structure and organization to the daily processes and tasks within the IT team, with an eye on continuous delivery and improvement. In some ways, it can be considered a project management approach. 

The purpose is to help organizations and the personnel within them deal with change quickly and efficiently, allowing them to thrive in a competitive landscape. 

The idea behind ITIL is that it helps manage an organization’s IT needs throughout project and product life cycles, from planning to selection to design to delivery.

The main 5 components of ITIL are:

  • Continuous service improvement
  • Service design
  • Service operation
  • Service transition
  • Service strategy

COBIT vs. ITIL

COBIT and ITIL are related but separate. You can think of COBIT as a set of guidelines articulating best practices for IT management and ITIL as a guide or map outlining how IT specialists are approaching their work and achieving their objectives every day.

Additionally, COBIT is more about oversight and ITIL is more about management. Another way to think of it is that COBIT is the “what” and ITIL is the “how.” But it is a little more complex than that.

One major difference between COBIT and ITIL is how they approach IT. COBIT’s view is from the perspective of the business, while ITIL Is from the perspective of the IT department or specialists. Moreover, COBIT gives direction to IT practices, while ITIL organizes them and provides a framework for carrying them out. 

COBIT also has a wider scope than ITIL, with the former applying to the entire organization and the latter applying exclusively to IT services. 

Similarities Between COBIT and ITIL

In many ways, COBIT and ITIL aren’t all that different. They are both intended to provide a management structure to and framework for IT services management and governance. Ultimately, it really comes down to a top-down vs. bottom-up approach.

The goals, although different, are similar. COBIT’s objective is to ensure that IT goals support larger business goals. Meanwhile, ITIL’s objective is to ensure that IT services benefit the entire business. These missions both involve making the organization more operationally efficient, although they take different paths to reach them. 

Moreover, while COBIT has a broader scope than ITIL, they both have the same aim — that of ensuring all employees are equipped with the right tools to do their jobs successfully and bring value to the organization.

Meanwhile, the end objective of both systems or frameworks is ultimately the same — a better, more productive, and more efficient organization.

Conclusion: Which One Is Better?

So, when it comes to COBIT or ITIL methodologies, which one should you use? First, it’s important to note that it’s not necessarily an either/or scenario — some organizations successfully incorporate both approaches or apply different ones to different teams or departments. Additionally, some organizations tackle one portion of a given project with COBIT or ITIL and complete it with the other. 

Still, others prefer to focus on COBIT over ITIL or vice versa.

As we have underscored, the COBIT and ITIL best practice frameworks both have similar goals— to create real value for the organization and streamline procedures for positive outcomes. So, the approach you choose depends on the structure of your organization. Often larger organizations with established IT practices will opt for COBIT, while newer, less digitally mature organizations may choose ITIL as they build up their IT practices and approach. 

Remember, too, that you can tailor the IT governance framework to your individual needs as an organization, taking the aspects that are most aligned to your objectives. 

In the digital age, it’s crucial to have a robust IT structure that serves your organization and your consumers. So, no matter what, you need to implement a framework or methodology to help you maintain, oversee, manage, and secure your IT infrastructure and tools.

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