COBIT ® And The Mysterious Case Of The Timeless Business

While delivering a COBIT® Foundation course this month to delegates from a variety of different companies, we were discussing the concept of the business case which normally includes a description, initial and ongoing costs, benefits and risks. The question of “timescale” arose, as it always seems to do! The COBIT description in developing a business case doesn’t explicitly list timescale as a key element, but it would be a strange and unlikely-to-succeed proposal that outlined all these other elements but then didn’t suggest when any of this would actually happen. In my experience with various projects, clients require guidance and are open to considering a range of options in the majority of areas such as deliverables and quality, but one area they are usually inflexible to is the timeframe within which they need such deliverables. If this is the case, then the scope or budget will need to be checked to ensure these deliverable can be met.

ITIL guidance certainly suggests that a business case structure would contain the time period as part of the methods for calculating the Return-On-Investment, and might even explicitly describe the pay-back period (after which it could be demonstrated that the proposed change had paid for itself).

My answer as to whether the timescale should be included depends on whether you are teaching, studying for an exam, or consulting with a client. In the case of a COBIT exam inclusion of timescale is unnecessary as it’s not on the syllabus, conversely when taking the ITIL Foundation exam, timeframe needs to be included as ITIL guidance makes direct reference to it. When you’re seeking to apply the guidance in the customer environment it depends on their methods, but timeframe would generally be considered an essential element.

My answer to “What is the definition of X?” also depends on which framework the questioner is referring to. The COBIT definition could be different from ITIL, which could again be different from a standard such as ISO/IEC 20000. When applying such knowledge, it is often a good idea to have knowledge of, and to be able to compare methods between, different frameworks or standards. Applying knowledge on a particular project or consultancy assignment is more than replaying it from any framework, just as a good training course will allow (and encourage) different views, while still being clear on the particular syllabus requirements for an upcoming exam. ITIL itself would describe the ability to work out which knowledge to apply and how to apply it in the right context as wisdom, which is the human element not yet stored in or replicated by automated systems.

We encourage our trainers to have experience of real and ongoing consulting assignments, just as we need our consultants to have a clear knowledge of one, or more than one, approach. More importantly they both need the wisdom to apply such knowledge correctly for the benefit of the delegate on the course, or the customer involved.

The guidance I usually give relating to this and indeed to most statements from such frameworks is, of course, quamvis in hoc situ. I don’t say it in Latin, though. Maybe I would if I was in Rome. Maybe not. It depends on the situation.


Alan Nixon
Director of Training
Fox IT