Digital Technology Business Analyst, Vijay Nair, discusses commercial e-learning sectors and then explains how by applying COBIT 5 principles organisations can help improve overall business.

The e-learning industry has been growing over the last few years with nearly every industrial sector using e-learning to a certain degree. E-learning provides a method for everyone to up-skill their career or learn something new - at the comfort of their desk or home.

All that is needed is a computer device with internet access and the applicable software available online (depending on the learning technology used). The e-learning providers go to great extents to implement these e-learning solutions.

In my previous article I discussed how ITIL v3 best practices can be used to manage e-learning services offered to different stakeholders as well as managing and controlling the level of services offered.

Now even if we have a structured service delivery infrastructure in place, we still need to think about expanding our e-learning business by introducing innovative ideas and concepts into our product portfolio, hence expanding the range of e-learning products/services offered to clients and customers globally (this should be our main goal).

This is where business analytical concepts come into play. My more recent article covers contents of the justifiable business case reports that demonstrate how an idea (proposed solution) is conceptualised and then initiated. This also applies agile project management approaches.

When a proposed idea is approved, we can then start working on the implementation stages by applying a systems design life cycle (SDLC) approach. In the e-learning industry, this is a very handy methodology when going through the product development phase, because, the different roles (instructional designer, LMS administrators, developers, etc.) are working together using a planned and methodological approach to deliver working e-learning courses, systems or processes.

The SDLC method includes the following areas at a high level: Plan, analyse, design, implement and maintain. In the context of e-learning, this means, that we first plan our proposed solution or process flow by organising the information required at a high level.

At the analysis phase we complete requirements gathering and detailing how the proposal is worth investing.

In the design phase we start designing the proposed solution or process with the help of the information collected from the analysis phase - this includes uml diagrams, wireframes and prototypes that present how the system would look and feel.

We then start working on the actual solution or process implementation phase, followed by testing and going live (in production state).

The maintenance stage includes improving its performance. By using a SDLC approach, these stages work in a loop to continuously improve the service (in ITIL context, this is called continual service improvement).

Now that we have established the different practises and frameworks that are applied within the e-learning production life-cycle, we now look at how a COBIT 5 framework fits it. COBIT 5 is an IT and enterprise governance framework that involves all stakeholders in the process of regulating and managing the business as a whole. It revolves around five principles:

  • meeting stakeholder needs;
  • covering the enterprise end-to-end;
  • applying a single integrated framework;
  • enabling a holistic approach;
  • separating governance from management.

From the perspective of the e-learning business, this framework brings everything together when dealing with developing e-learning product portfolios. Let us examine how these principles fit into the e-learning industry.

Meeting stakeholder needs

The aim here is to bring value that is of interest to the stakeholders (customers, internal staff, suppliers / business partners, regulating bodies etc.). This is achieved by: - Benefits realisation, risk optimisation and resource optimisation. COBIT 5 shows how the stakeholder needs to meet the e-learning business goals with the help of ‘enablers’.

While ITIL, business analysis, etc. show how to do the different activities, COBIT 5 talks about what to do in the first place. So the enablers over here include: ITIL, business analysis, SDLC among other frameworks, and these would help e-learning businesses achieve the stakeholder needs, which in turn would achieve the enterprise goals.

COBIT 5 establishes a model that shows how to map enterprise goals to governance and management goals and IT goals. This helps the e-learning industry and businesses to establish an enterprise structure for managing and governing their customers and client needs.

Covering the enterprise end-to-end

In the e-learning industry this means integrating enterprise IT and governance and covering all functions and processes required (including external and internal processes). This applies governance enablers (organisational resources) and scope (the whole enterprise, including tangible and intangible assets). This principle also helps e-learning businesses to establish roles and activities involved in governing their business.

Applying a single integrated framework

This principle is very important for growing e-learning businesses or units as this demonstrates how different business frameworks, standards, processes, implementation guides, security, assurance, etc. fit into the bigger picture of running the e-learning business and services.

E-learning auditors tend use this principle to see if the produced e-learning packages meet the governing standards (for example; the topics covered in the e-learning package and content meet the standard of delivery of the subject in question as well as meeting needs of the affiliated regulating body).

COBIT 5 accomplishes this principle by building a knowledge-base that contains current guidance and contents as well as structure of the future contents. The enablers mentioned above are added to this knowledge-base.

Enabling a holistic approach

This principally is about defining the enablers that are going to be used in the e-learning business. The seven factors involved are: Principles, policies and frameworks + processes + organisational structures + culture, ethics and behaviour + information + services, infrastructure and applications + people, skills and competencies. It’s about having a common way in dealing with enablers. COBIT 5 has a model to show how this is done. E-learning industries can gain value from this principle.

Separating governance from management

COBIT 5 makes a clear distinction between governance and management by differentiating the activities associated with each other. In the e-learning business, this would imply that the governing body / board would set directions for the whole organisation by evaluating stakeholder needs with agreed enterprise objectives.

The management would then plan, build, run and monitor activities based on the directions set by the governing body. This would help the e-learning organisation to cascade their objectives effectively to their staff while meeting client and customer needs and generating revenue in the process.

E-commerce, m-commerce and learning technology industries can really benefit from the COBIT 5 - process capability model to see how effective, applied processes are.

There is a clear advantage of using COBIT 5 principles and practises within the learning technology and e-learning industry as it brings all the current and future processes and practices together while defining a structured approach to delivering services to stakeholders.