What is IT governance?

IT governance describes the processes, strategies and tools organisations employ to ensure effective use of IT to achieve goals and minimise risk.

Information technology has revolutionised how the world conducts business. Advances in communication, accessibility, automation, data analysis, cloud computing and more have created a universe of near-limitless technological possibilities. Today, even the smallest organisations are backed by computing power that rivals anything that would have been available only a decade ago. However, through every digital breakthrough, it’s important to remember that IT is only a means to an end; if technology is not helping businesses achieve their goals, then it’s little more than a distraction.

IT governance takes this truth to heart. As the first part of governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), IT governance is putting the structure in place (policies, procedures, and frameworks such as COBIT), which can then be followed testing compliance and accessing risk. Correctly applied, IT governance empowers organisations to manage their essential technologies with purpose, ensuring that all relevant IT platforms, tools, strategies, initiatives, activities and resources are properly aligned and working towards common objectives.

IT governance is an essential part of GRC and thus plays a vital role in both public- and private-sector organisations. Governance brings IT functions into alignment with business strategies and objectives, making IT governance programmes a valuable consideration for any industry required to adhere to financial and/or technological regulations.

IT governance establishes a direct connection between technologies and business value. As such, it carries with it several clear benefits:

Demonstrating measurable results

By aligning IT with broader strategies and goals, IT governance provides a series of quantifiable metrics by which decision makers can accurately assess and demonstrate IT value.

Increasing stakeholder confidence

Non-IT personnel sometimes have difficulty comprehending the function or advantage of certain business technologies. A clean, transparent IT governance framework clearly establishes the exact purpose of IT solutions within the context of business goals, giving stakeholders more confidence in the organisation’s technology services.

Improving regulatory compliance

Without proper IT governance in place, there is little preventing IT from being used incorrectly, illegally or even dangerously. IT governance offers a clear view of all company information technologies, so that noncompliance issues may be easily identified and corrected.

Optimising ROI for all IT investments

Misaligned IT services naturally lead to poor data identification, ineffective security controls, inadequate communication and substandard resource allocation. Properly implemented, IT governance provides the solution to each of these issues, allowing businesses to reduce costs while improving returns on their IT investments.

As previously stated, the underlying goal of IT governance is to accurately align IT solutions with business objectives. More specifically, IT governance is designed to achieve the following goals:

Deliver stakeholder value

This goal is deceptively complex. After all, most organisations have many kinds of stakeholders, both internal and external, and they each may have their own interests and ideas of what constitutes ‘value.’ IT governance takes conflicting stakeholder interests into account, synergising multiple tasks and ensuring that value is being delivered across every level.

Graphic outlining the goals of IT governance.

Establish strategy

IT governance provides the insight, transparency and measurable data businesses need to clearly connect IT to business value. Using this information, businesses can then build effective strategies for maximising that value. IT governance helps organisations refine their vision for IT activities, establishing common language to communicate at the highest levels (and to the board) and laying down clear direction for future growth.

Mitigate risk

A fully vetted IT framework helps eliminate the risks associated with shadow IT, creates a framework for an accurate and real-time view of risk, and ensures that all systems are being employed correctly and are up to date in terms of security. But it also goes beyond the risks associated with data theft. IT governance also takes into account the differing interests of various stakeholders, offering clear solutions when these interests conflict and helping to mitigate the risks of different departments working at cross purposes.

Measure performance

How can an organisation determine whether their IT assets are functioning together properly and providing value? The only way to know for sure is by measuring results. Using key performance indicators and metrics built into the IT governance framework, decision makers can accurately gauge the performance of all relevant IT resources.

Although sometimes used interchangeably, IT governance and IT management are not actually the same thing.

IT governance

IT governance provides a clear framework for building strategy, establishing roadmaps, aligning IT with business priorities and mitigating risk and compliance issues. Essentially, IT governance determines the plan of action for the organisation to follow.

IT management

IT management is not as involved in the planning or strategy, instead focusing on the day-to-day activities associated with IT implementations and processes and making sure that ongoing IT management is being handled effectively and lawfully. IT management translates strategic direction into action, moving the business forward towards achieving its objectives.

IT governance offers tangible benefits to organisations of all sizes, within both the public and private sectors and across essentially every industry. That said, the time and effort needed to build and implement a comprehensive IT governance solution may be prohibitive for smaller businesses. Small organisations may choose instead to establish simplified IT governance solutions, rather than invest in something that goes well beyond their needs. On the other hand, larger organisations that have the resources to field complete IT governance frameworks are encouraged to do so. Likewise, any organisation that operates within heavily regulated industries should consider IT governance to help mitigate compliance and accountability risks.

Implementing an IT governance programme begins with choosing a framework. IT governance frameworks are created by industry experts and generally include vital guides and tutorials to help businesses make a smooth transition into IT governance. Some of the most popular IT governance frameworks include the following:


Originally designed as a framework for IT auditing, COBIT has expanded to fully encompass IT governance, with a special focus on risk mitigation and management.


For those organisations that are most interested in improving IT performance, the CMMI framework may be the optimal solution. CMMI uses a numerical scale (1–5) to assess a company’s IT performance, profitability and quality.


Less specifically tailored to IT than some of the other frameworks, COSO is nevertheless an effective IT governance solution for organisations that wish to put greater focus on fraud deterrence, enterprise risk management and other aspects of business.


FAIR is a newer IT governance framework, designed to more directly address operational-risk factors and cyber security. Although this framework is newer than many others, it has already gained a substantial following.


Perhaps the most well-rounded of the frameworks, ITIL combines IT management with IT governance to help ensure that all relevant IT services are in line with the business’ core processes.


The NIST framework exists specifically to help manage and reduce IT infrastructure security risks and includes standards and guidelines for preventing, identifying and responding to cyberattacks.


ISO 27001 establishes information-security standards that have been internationally agreed upon by IT experts. ISO helps organisations optimise their existing cyber security controls into complete information security management systems (ISMS).


A specialised framework that focuses on technical and security operational controls, CIS eschews risk analysis and risk management in favour of reducing risk by increasing resilience in IT infrastructures.

With many different options to choose from, businesses may have a difficult time deciding which IT governance framework to use. The good news is that, when properly implemented, any of the above-mentioned frameworks may be a suitable solution for nearly any company. On the other hand, certain frameworks are more directly focused on specific tasks, departments or objectives and may be a better or worse fit for some organisations. When choosing between available frameworks, consider the following:

Company needs or compliance mandates

What are the business objectives that are driving the search for an IT governance framework? As addressed above, different frameworks offer different advantages; researching the available frameworks with a focus on the needs of the company can help narrow down the list of prospective candidates.

Corporate culture

The organisation’s culture should also play a role in deciding on a framework. Remember, it’s always easier to change an IT governance approach than it is to revamp the entire way an organisation operates and interacts, so finding a framework that speaks to corporate culture and resonates well with stakeholders should be a top priority.

Multi-framework solutions

If no single framework feels like the right solution, combining two (or potentially more) frameworks may be the answer. Certain frameworks—such as ITIL and COBIT—complement each other extremely well.

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