COBIT vs ITIL: What are the Differences?

Find out whether you need both or any of them.

an image metaphorically depicting the difference between COBIT and ITIL frameworks as the difference between a construction blueprint and the building tools such as bricks

As companies expand their operations, they transition from ad hoc to strategic approaches in their quest for optimal IT service management. Frameworks like ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies) play pivotal roles in this endeavor. These frameworks aid companies in mapping out their objectives, devising performance metrics, and efficiently managing IT resources to secure a substantial return on their considerable investments.

Given the shared focus on IT service management, distinguishing between ITIL and COBIT can be challenging, leading to confusion regarding their respective boundaries and functions. In this article, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of these two frameworks and explain whether your company needs both or any of them.

Two frameworks for IT service management

ITIL and COBIT share a common focus on IT service management, which is the strategic approach to overseeing IT services within an organization. COBIT is primarily focused on IT governance, risk management, and compliance, while ITIL is more focused on the practical aspects of delivering and managing IT services. We’ll explain in more detail below.

What is COBIT?

COBIT, which stands for Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies, is a framework for the governance and management of enterprise IT (Information Technology). It is a set of best practices and guidelines that helps organizations ensure that their IT systems:

  1. support their business objectives,
  2. comply with regulations,
  3. and effectively manage IT-related risks.

(Pay attention to these characteristics to compare them with the traits of ITIL, which we’re bringing further.)

COBIT was initially developed by ISACA* (Information Systems Audit and Control Association) in the mid-1990s in response to the following challenges:

  • A growing number of regulatory and compliance requirements for enterprise, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in the United States,
  • Increasing reliance on IT and increasing complexity of IT environments,
  • lack of standardized frameworks focusing on IT governance and control,
  • the importance of aligning IT with the company’s business objectives.

*“ISACA is a global professional association and learning organization with 170,000 members who work in digital trust fields such as information security, governance, assurance, risk, privacy and quality.”

The key concepts in COBIT are governance, risk, security, and management.

  1. The COBIT framework ensures enterprise IT is adequately governed, mainly that IT prioritizes areas that align with the company’s and stakeholders’ long-term goals. The framework provides predictability and certainty for the management regarding the outcomes of the IT team.
  2. Moreover, COBIT underscores cybersecurity and control over risks related to the use of information technologies.
  3. COBIT promotes effective IT management to ensure that IT resources are efficiently utilized. Management processes outlined in COBIT cover service delivery, change management, and incident management.

What is ITIL?

ITIL, which stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a globally recognized framework of best practices and recommendations for efficiently managing IT services within organizations. It provides a comprehensive set of guidelines, processes, and procedures for:

  • Efficient service management,
  • Maintaining high service quality and operational excellence,
  • Improving customer satisfaction.

Originally developed in response to the British government’s need to improve IT operations, ITIL has evolved into a standard framework used by businesses worldwide. ITIL offers a detailed, process-oriented approach to managing IT services. Its latest version, ITIL 4, emphasizes modern management practices and aims to adapt to the evolving landscape of IT and service management.

Our flagship ITSM and ITAM solution Alloy Navigator is fully ITIL compliant. With our product, you will have ready-to-use ITIL processes such as incident management, change management, problem management, and knowledge management. Connect with our sales team to learn more about Alloy Navigator and try it out yourself!

What are ITIL and COBIT’s objectives?

The main objectives of COBIT include:

  • ensuring that IT activities align with and support the organization’s strategic goals,
  • managing risks related to compliance and security,
  • achieving and maintaining compliance with various regulations, standards, and industry-specific requirements,
  • Measuring and assessing the performance of IT processes and activities and providing an easy way for management to stay on top of the IT team’s results.

Meanwhile, the main objectives of ITIL are the following:

  • ITIL’s primary purpose is to provide a framework for effective IT service management.
  • ITIL aims to enhance the quality, reliability, and efficiency of IT services for customers.
  • It achieves operational excellence by delivering IT services, making the best use of resources, minimizing risks, and reducing disruptions.

Key differences between COBIT and ITIL

The main difference between COBIT and ITIL is that they have distinct purposes and principles. COBIT is primarily focused on governance, risk management, and alignment with business goals, whereas ITIL is centered around IT service management, service quality, and customer satisfaction.

Let’s illustrate the scopes of ITIL and COBIT using a particular organization and see how these two frameworks contribute to success.

Company name: BankSecure

Industry: Financial Services

Size: Large multinational bank

Business model: BankSecure offers various financial services, including retail banking, investment banking, and asset management, serving millions of customers worldwide.

Incident: A data breach occurred where sensitive customer financial information, including account numbers and personal details, was compromised due to a cybersecurity breach.

ITIL perspective

ITIL’s incident management process comes into play. BankSecure follows ITIL’s best practices to respond to the data breach effectively.

Roles and procedures: ITIL defines roles and responsibilities within the incident management process. The incident response team is activated, and each member knows their role.

Incident categorization and prioritization: ITIL guides BankSecure to categorize and prioritize the incident based on its impact and urgency. The breach is categorized as a “critical” incident.

Resolution and recovery: ITIL provides a structured approach to contain the breach, restore affected services, and recover from the incident.

Communication: ITIL emphasizes communication, ensuring that BankSecure communicates with affected customers, regulatory authorities, and internal stakeholders to maintain transparency and mitigate reputation damage.

Post-incident review: After resolving the incident, ITIL recommends a post-incident review to identify areas for improvement in the incident management process.

COBIT perspective

From a COBIT perspective, BankSecure focuses on governance and risk management. While ITIL focuses on operational aspects, COBIT looks at the broader governance context.

Governance alignment: COBIT ensures that the incident response aligns with the bank’s strategic goals and regulatory compliance. The incident response should be in line with the overall governance structure.

Risk assessment: COBIT encourages BankSecure to assess the risk factors that led to the breach and evaluate the effectiveness of controls in place.

Regulatory compliance: COBIT helps BankSecure ensure that the incident response adheres to regulatory requirements and industry standards, such as data protection laws.

Performance metrics: COBIT defines KPIs for measuring the performance of the incident response process, helping BankSecure assess its effectiveness over time.

Ongoing governance: COBIT promotes ongoing governance of incident response processes, ensuring continual improvement and alignment with the bank’s business goals.

To put it simply, while ITIL aims to restore normal operations as soon as possible and acts as a firefighter, COBIT is more like an expert commission that observes the incident resolution, ensures its compliance with regulations, alignment with the company’s goals, and evaluates how well the IT team handles the incident in terms of performance.

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How do ITIL and COBIT overlap?

There might be numerous business situations where ITIL and COBIT overlap. For example, in the incident management process described above, COBIT’s perspective will encourage management to evaluate the incident response quality to identify potential risks and prepare for them. Meanwhile, ITIL’s perspective suggests a post-incident review, as well. The only difference is that it happens after the incident resolution.

Once again, if we put it simply, COBIT governs, and ITIL maintains operations. As soon as governance and operations overlap, so do the frameworks.

COBIT vs ITIL: comparison

Below, we are providing a head-to-head comparison of ITIL and COBIT.


COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies)

COBIT is a framework developed by ISACA for IT governance and management. It provides a structured approach to aligning IT with business goals, managing IT-related risks, and ensuring efficient and compliant IT operations.

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library)

ITIL is a framework focusing on IT service management (ITSM). It offers best practices and guidelines for designing, transitioning, operating, and continually improving IT services to meet business and customer needs.


COBIT was initially developed in the mid-1990s by ISACA, to improve IT governance and control in response to the increasing importance of IT in organizations.

ITIL’s history dates back to the 1980s when the British government introduced it to enhance the quality and efficiency of IT services provided by government agencies. Over time, it evolved into a globally recognized framework.


The primary purpose of COBIT is IT governance. It helps organizations effectively govern and control their IT activities, manage risks, and ensure alignment with business goals.

ITIL’s primary purpose is IT service management. It guides organizations in delivering high-quality IT services, enhancing customer satisfaction, and achieving operational excellence.



Alignment with Business Goals: Ensure that IT activities support and align with the organization’s strategic objectives.

Risk Management: Identify, assess, and manage IT-related risks, including compliance and security risks.

Compliance and Regulation: Provide guidance for achieving and demonstrating compliance with relevant regulations and standards.

Performance Measurement: Use metrics and KPIs to measure and improve IT processes and activities.

Continuous Improvement: Establish a culture of continual service improvement.


Service Focus: Prioritize delivering high-quality IT services that meet customer and business needs.

Service Lifecycle: Emphasize the entire service lifecycle, from strategy and design to transition, operation, and continual improvement.

Customer-Centric: Keep the customer at the center of IT service design and delivery.

Process-Oriented: Define and follow ITSM processes to ensure consistent and efficient service delivery.

Best Practices: Encourage adopting proven best practices for IT service management.


COBIT offers certification programs such as COBIT 2019 Foundation, COBIT 2019 Design & Implementation, and COBIT 2019 Assessor, which help individuals and organizations demonstrate their understanding and application of COBIT principles.

ITIL provides a well-known certification scheme with different levels, including ITIL Foundation, ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Intermediate (in various lifecycle and capability modules), and ITIL Expert. ITIL certifications are widely recognized in the field of IT service management.

COBIT vs ITIL: can they coexist?

Yes, COBIT and ITIL can coexist in an organization, and in fact, they are often used together to achieve comprehensive IT governance, management, and service delivery. Each framework serves a distinct purpose, and their integration can provide a more robust and holistic approach to managing IT services and ensuring alignment with business objectives.

Which ITSM framework is right for you?

The choice between the two frameworks depends on an organization’s specific needs and objectives.

Here are some considerations to help you decide which framework is right for you.

COBIT may be more suitable if:

  • Your organization places a high priority on IT governance, risk management, and compliance. COBIT is particularly well-suited for organizations seeking to establish robust governance structures and control objectives.

Example: Businesses dealing with highly sensitive data, like personal and financial information, place a premium on IT governance.

  • Your industry demands strict compliance with standards and regulations.

Example: For an international financial business like BankSecure, which we mentioned above, numerous regulations and compliance requirements may vary by region. COBIT’s focus on control objectives and risk management can help ensure the organization complies with all relevant laws.

  • You prefer a comprehensive framework that addresses many IT-related processes, not just service management. COBIT’s coverage includes strategic planning, acquisition, delivery, and monitoring.

ITIL may be more suitable if:

  • Your primary concern is improving IT service management. ITIL provides detailed best practices and processes for service design, transition, operation, and continual improvement.

Example: Early-stage startups may focus on delivering products or services quickly and efficiently, emphasizing ITSM to meet immediate customer needs. IT governance considerations can come into play as the company grows and faces increased complexity or regulatory requirements.

  • You are looking for specific, actionable guidance on how to improve IT services and processes. ITIL offers a wealth of practical advice and recommendations.
  • You want to enhance the skills and capabilities of your IT staff in the context of service management. ITIL certification is one of the most demanded in the IT world.

Read our blog article on the limitations of ITIL to find out why it might be wrong for you.

Key takeaways

These takeaways provide a concise summary of the text’s key points:

  • COBIT and ITIL both center on IT service management, but COBIT places a greater emphasis on IT governance, risk management, and compliance, while ITIL focuses on practical aspects of delivering and managing IT services.
  • The choice between COBIT and ITIL depends on the organization’s specific needs and objectives. COBIT is suitable for organizations prioritizing governance, risk management, and compliance, while ITIL is ideal for those emphasizing practical IT service management and improvement.
  • COBIT is well-suited for organizations dealing with highly sensitive data or strict compliance requirements, such as financial institutions, and government organizations. ITIL is beneficial for businesses looking to enhance IT service management and staff capabilities, especially in the context of service delivery.
  • COBIT and ITIL can coexist in an organization, with each serving distinct purposes. Integration of both frameworks offers a more comprehensive approach to IT governance and service delivery.

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