There was a time when IT was a tool for business. Now, IT is business.

Whether in terms of enabling day-to-day operations, pursuing significant business transformation initiatives, protecting customers, or anything else, IT has a significant role to play in almost everything. Wherever IT has a presence, it can be optimized and improved, not only in terms of how it performs its functions but also in how success is measured.

The growth of IT has, naturally, added to its complexity. An IT infrastructure can take many forms within the same industry, to say nothing of how diverse IT can be across different locations and sectors. It is important to understand exactly what purpose IT has within your own organization: what is it used for? What goals does it support? How is it going to evolve in the future?

To cope with this, organizations will often utilize an IT management framework. These will typically offer best practices, tools, and insight on how to optimize the management and/or governance of IT, empowering businesses to improve quickly, efficiently, and continuously. 

The issue is that, given the diversity of IT as a topic, most frameworks have a limited area of focus. That is to say, there are very few that claim to cover IT in its entirety, and fewer still that do it well. Businesses will thus choose a framework that is best suited to their own requirements and priorities.

ITIL 4 is the world’s most popular IT service management (ITSM) framework. It was designed around the creation, management, and continuous improvement of IT services. COBIT 2019 is an IT governance and management methodology designed to create bespoke IT frameworks perfectly suited to the requirements and priorities of each practitioner organization.

Both are highly successful in their own right and have seen multiple iterations over the years. Each framework also received a recent update to reflect the modern landscape of digital and IT management. Better still, both are suitable for virtually any business regardless of industry, sector, or location.

Because of this, the questions of which is superior and how to choose between them often come up. Is there a definitive winner in the argument of ITIL vs. COBIT? Let’s take a look!

Choosing ITIL 4

ITIL 4 is a best practice framework offering a holistic approach to IT service management. It is split into several modules on IT management and its relation to high-level strategy. These can be studied and applied individually, depending on a practitioner’s priorities. A candidate who studies and passes the exams for all ITIL modules can reach the rank of ‘ITIL Master’.

Unlike previous versions, ITIL 4 was built with significant input from the practitioner community. Their feedback drove improvements on ITIL v3, such as making it easier to combine the framework with other approaches like DevOps (as well as COBIT, funnily enough). The framework is also set to be continually improved by the ITIL Development Group, making ITIL training an excellent long-term investment for a business.

ITIL 4 offers several valuable tools and practices, including the ITIL Service Value Chain (SVC), ITIL Service Value System (SVS), and more. All these are designed to create an atmosphere of continuous improvement that focuses on delivering services perfectly suited to customer requirements.

Adopting ITIL is not too complicated, though it does require the help of certified practitioners. While ITIL does not offer a step-by-step guide to ITSM, it does support seamless transition for practitioner organizations, helping them to understand and drive improvements across service delivery, alignment, integration, customer satisfaction, cost optimization, and more.

The downside is that this ground-up focus can occasionally go off track. As important as IT services are, ITIL’s focus on meeting the needs of customers can occasionally lead bad ITIL practitioners to lose sight of high-level business goals. This isn’t exactly a glaring flaw, as ITIL does support IT governance. However, there are other frameworks that put a much greater emphasis on strategy, with COBIT being one of them.

Choosing COBIT 2019

COBIT 2019 is an IT management and governance framework. It is highly customizable, with 40 Governance and Management Objectives covering different elements of IT. Practitioners can prioritize the objectives as necessary, creating frameworks perfectly suited to their own requirements.

There are several elements to this. First, there is COBIT’s management of the functions, tools, and roles of IT. It can even incorporate other frameworks an organization makes use of, including DevOps and ITIL. It also focuses on various elements of a business that utilize IT, helping to optimize clarity on all sides. Secondly, COBIT emphasizes the role of IT in relation to the business’s wider goals. It aims to reshape IT in order to focus on strategic elements, all while communicating the needs of IT to stakeholders so that they can assign the necessary resources.

Over the years, COBIT has developed a major focus on compliance, an essential element of modern IT management that no business can afford to ignore. It also has a similar emphasis on information governance, security, and risk management.

Similar to ITIL, COBIT is also scheduled to be updated on a regular basis. This is thanks to its open-source model, as well as its own practitioner community.

Adopting COBIT requires a strong understanding of both COBIT itself and the organization in question. Practitioners must be prepared to collaborate with different areas of the business to optimize clarity and facilitate COBIT management.

Overall, COBIT offers a flexible yet comprehensive approach to managing IT. However, its top-down focus is not always the best option. It ultimately depends on the role of IT in an organization’s strategic process.

Should I choose ITIL or COBIT?

ITIL 4 focuses on optimizing services for the sake of meeting customer requirements. At the same time, it aims to reduce costs, boost efficiency, and provide a higher level of clarity for decision-makers. However, it is also generally contained within IT, and while branches of ITIL 4 deal with IT strategy, it does not have as much of a focus on strategic governance as COBIT.

COBIT 2019 has more of a top-down approach. It aims to fully align IT with business requirements and creates frameworks suited to a practitioner’s organization’s unique operations and priorities. At the same time, COBIT practitioners can also liaise with stakeholders to ensure IT has the resources it needs. It looks at efficiency, risks, resources, and other elements within this context, and goals are defined by stakeholders to create benchmarks that IT can work towards.

The two frameworks are not entirely distinct, as both have elements of optimization and governance. However, while ITIL focuses on improving services for customers, COBIT emphasizes the needs of stakeholders. It is effectively a competition of top-down vs. ground-up.

The best option for you will depend largely on the relationship your organization has between business and IT, as well as the current strength of your IT operations.

  • ITIL 4 may be the best choice if your main concern is not the direction of IT but a lack of efficiency and effectiveness. ITIL 4 can help you optimize internal practices for planning, creating, deploying, and improving services
  • COBIT 2019 may be the right choice if you need IT to become more of a business tool. Are your IT operations properly aligned with your business goals? If not, there may be redundant functions or unnecessary expenditure to cut out. Your operation will become more focused and streamlined, with everything having a purpose within your wider business strategy

In other words: are you looking for alignment or optimization? If the answer to that question is ‘both’, then your best option may well be to combine the two frameworks.

Combining ITIL and COBIT

While ITIL 4 and COBIT 2019 are competitors in many respects, they can also work extremely well together. The fact that ITIL 4 also prioritizes areas like governance, and COBIT areas like optimization, means that their goals need not clash in terms of what practitioners seek to accomplish.

It is also worth pointing out that both ITIL 4 and COBIT 2019 are designed to accommodate other frameworks. Both can also be customized to suit the needs of the user organization.

By combining the two, a business can fully optimize both the direction and function of IT, ensuring that operations are not only working as well as possible but also perfectly suited to the needs of the organization.

Studying IT management and governance with Good e-Learning

Good e-Learning is an award-winning online training provider with a diverse range of courses in IT service management, IT governance & compliance, and more. Each of our fully accredited courses comes with months of access, and thanks to the Go.Learn app it is easier than ever for students to study any time, anywhere.

Each of our courses comes with a variety of online training assets, including instructor-led videos, knowledge checks, and practice exams. Students can access a range of free downloadable training assets, and we also regularly produce videos and webinars on course topics. Students can even enjoy FREE certification exam vouchers, as well as free resits via Exam Pledge.

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Philip is a content writer with experience across multiple industries, including gaming, home improvement, and now e-learning. He graduated from the London School of Economics with a BA in History before taking on various odd jobs and volunteer writing positions, but soon broke into professional writing as a retail journalist. Now focusing on content writing, Philip is a tireless enemy of cliched corporate jargon. He believes that marketing content should be clear, concise and relevant to readers. Rather than assuming that customers know all about your solution, it is up to you to identify with their problem and offer something that will really get their attention. As such, he strives to understand the real-world applications of Good e-Learning’s product portfolio so that it can be explained in a way that is both coherent and down to earth. If you cannot understand what you are selling, you won’t get far! In his spare time, Philip enjoys watching movies, gaming and writing with friends.