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Using COBIT 5 to Measure the Relationship Between Business and IT

By Mark T. Edmead, CISA, COBIT 5 Assessor, BRMP, CASM, CISSP, DevOps Foundation, Lean IT Foundation, TOGAF 9.1

COBIT Focus | 16 November 2015

An enterprise is much more than just information technology. The common infrastructure is that there are many functional areas including human resources (HR), IT, manufacturing, operations, finance and so on. The challenge is to get all of these functional departments to work cohesively and with the same goal in mind. The nature of an enterprise is that they are divided into these functional areas, and in many instances, there is little or no horizontal alignment between them.

The business relationship manager (BRM) role is a relatively new role in many organizations. The BRM is a liaison between corporate technology services and the business. The BRM is responsible for understanding the business, assisting in the prioritization of projects and ensuring that projects align with technology standards. Ideally, the BRM has significant knowledge in subject matters pertaining to corporate service and the business. Therefore, the BRM can help direct corporate services in support of the overall business strategy.

As the name implies, the BRM is most interested in establishing and cultivating relationships. But it is not just the relationship of the BRM with their clients, it is also important to understand and measure the quality of the relationship among the various functional groups. How can you measure the success of the relationships between these groups? Managing the relationship between these various groups is important as it determines the effectiveness of the ability of IT to successfully meet stakeholder needs and goals. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we will concentrate on the relationship between the business and IT.

In a recent consulting assignment, a client asked me about how they can measure the relationship between the business and IT. I recommended they use COBIT 5.

COBIT 5 consists of 5 process domains. These domains are discussed in detail within the COBIT 5 Process Reference Model included in the book COBIT 5: Enabling Processes. Of the domains, there is a single domain, Evaluate, Direct and Monitor (EDM), dedicated to the governance of enterprise IT (GEIT). The other 4 domains are related to the management of enterprise IT. These include Align, Plan and Organize (APO); Build, Acquire and Implement (BAI); Deliver, Service and Support (DSS); and Monitor, Evaluate and Assess (MEA). Each one of these domains contains a number of processes, associated management practices and activities. With respect to the alignment of IT and the business and, more specifically, measuring the quality of the relationship between the business and IT, the APO domain contains a process called APO08 Manage relationships (figure 1).

Figure 1—APO08 Manage Relationships

Source: ISACA, COBIT 5, USA, 2012

APO08 is used to manage the relationship between the business and IT in such a way that it ensures a focus on achieving a common goal of successful enterprise outcomes in support of strategic goals. The overall goal of this process is to create improved outcomes and increase confidence and trust in IT.

Of the 3 main process goals, the focus of the consulting engagement and this article is to establish and maintain good relationships between the enterprise (as internal customers) and IT. Within APO08, there are 5 management practices. Management practice APO08.03, Manage the business relationship, is defined as the ability to “Manage the relationship with customers (business representatives). Ensure that relationship roles and responsibilities are defined and assigned, and communication is facilitated.”

In the performance of this practice, there are 5 main activities identified. The first activity calls for the assignment of a relationship manager (RM) to be the single point of contact for each significant line of business (LOB). In this role, the RM can facilitate and support the IT-related goals. By communicating with business and IT, the RM can make sure the IT strategy is aligned with the business strategy. A standard approach to measuring effectiveness of this process and related practices would be to develop measurements and metrics representing the percent of IT value drivers mapped to business value drivers. Many of the problems encountered as they relate to business-IT alignment result from the lack of coordination and communication. Management practice APO08.04, Co-ordinate and communicate, highlights the need for end-to-end communications plans that define, among other things, the status of the value delivered and any risk identified.

APO08 identified several output work products that we can use as evidence to measure the success of relationship management. These include:

  • Clarified and agreed-on business expectations
  • Agreed-on key decisions
  • Communication plan
  • Communication packages
  • Satisfaction analyses

At the beginning of the assessment, the business-IT relationship was almost nonexistent. The business units were either doing the IT work themselves or using outside resources to perform the work. Once they established someone in the RM role, the relationship changed for the better. The RM helped clarify the business expectations and communicated these expectations to the IT department. A communication plan was put in place. Any discrepancies between business expectations and IT delivery capabilities were identified, measured against established thresholds, evaluated, communicated to appropriate stakeholders and mitigated. The result was improved alignment, enhanced communication and a repeatable method of measuring ongoing performance with IT delivering solutions the business wants and IT having a better understanding of business requirements.

Mark T. Edmead, CISA, COBIT 5 Assessor, BRMP, CASM, CISSP, DevOps Foundation, Lean IT Foundation, TOGAF 9.1

Is an IT transformation consultant and trainer. Over the past 28 years, he has provided IT transformation and business improvement services that align IT with business goals to drive bottom-line performance and growth. His focus is on change management, process improvement, enterprise architecture, technology road mapping, strategic IT planning, IT organization analysis, IT portfolio management and IT governance. Edmead has delivered numerous international workshops to locations including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland, Germany, Chile, Mexico and Scotland.