How Alcoa Canned the Cost of Recycling

Alcoa is one of the world’s largest aluminium smelting and casting multinationals, and involves itself in everything from tin cans, to jet engines to single-forged hulls for combat vehicles. Energy costs represent 26% of the company’s total refining costs, while electricity contributes 27% of primary production outlays. Its Barberton Ohio plant shaved 30% off both energy use and energy cost, after a capital outlay of just $21 million, which for it, is a drop in the bucket.

Aluminium smelting is so expensive that some critics describe the product as ‘solid electricity’. In simple terms, the method used is electrolysis whereby current passes through the raw material in order to decompose it into its component chemicals. The cryolite electrolyte heats up to 1,000 degrees C (1,832 degrees F) and converts the aluminium ions into molten metal. This sinks to the bottom of the vat and is collected through a drain. Then they cast it into crude billets plugs, which when cooled can be re-smelted and turned into useful products.

The Alcoa Barberton factory manufactures cast aluminium wheels across approximately 50,000 square feet (4,645 square meters) of plant. It had been sending its scrap to a sister company 800 miles away; who processed it into aluminium billets – before sending them back for Barberton to turn into even more wheels. By building its own recycling plant 60 miles away that was 30% more efficient, the plant halved its energy costs: 50% of this was through process engineering, while the balance came from transportation.

The transport saving followed naturally. The recycling savings came from a state-of-the-art plant that slashed energy costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly enough, processing recycled aluminium uses just 5% of energy needed to process virgin bauxite ore. Finally, aluminium wheels are 45% lighter than steel, resulting in an energy saving for Alcoa Barberton’s customers too.

The changes helped raise employee awareness of the need to innovate in smaller things too, like scheduling production to increase energy efficiency and making sure to gather every ounce of scrap. The strategic change created 30 new positions and helped secure 350 existing jobs.

The direction that Barberton took in terms of scrap metal recycling was as simple as it was effective. The decision process was equally straightforward. First, measure your energy consumption at each part of the process, then define the alternatives, forecast the benefits, confirm and implement. Of course, you also need to be able to visualise what becomes possible when you break with tradition.

FUJIFILM Cracks the Energy Code

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FUJIFILM was in trouble at its Dayton, Tennessee plant in 2008 where it produced a variety of speciality chemicals for industrial use. Compressed-air breakdowns were having knock-on effects. The company decided it was time to measure what was happening and solve the problem. It hoped to improve reliability, cut down maintenance, and eliminate relying on nitrogen for back-up (unless the materials were flammable).

The company tentatively identified three root causes. These were (a) insufficient system knowledge within maintenance, (b) weak spare part supply chain, and (c) generic imbalances including overstated demand and underutilised supply. The maintenance manager asked the U.S. Department of Energy to assist with a comprehensive audit of the compressed air system.

The team began on the demand side by attaching flow meters to each of several compressors for five days. They noticed that – while the equipment was set to deliver 120 psi actual delivery was 75% of this or less. They found that demand was cyclical depending on the production phase. Most importantly, they determined that only one compressor would be necessary once they eliminated the leaks in the system and upgraded short-term storage capacity.

The project team formulated a three-stage plan. Their first step would be to increase storage capacity to accommodate peak demand; the second would be to fix the leaks, and the third to source a larger compressor and associated gear from a sister plant the parent company was phasing out. Viewed overall, this provided four specific goals.

  • Improve reliability with greater redundancy
  • Bring down system maintenance costs
  • Cut down plant energy consumption
  • Eliminate nitrogen as a fall-back resource

They reconfigured the equipment in terms of lowest practical maintenance cost, and moved the redundant compressors to stations where they could easily couple as back-ups. Then they implemented an online leak detection and repair program. Finally, they set the replacement compressor to 98 psi, after they determined this delivered the optimum balance between productivity and operating cost.

Since 2008, FUJIFILM has saved 1.2 million kilowatt hours of energy while virtually eliminating compressor system breakdowns. The single compressor is operating at relatively low pressure with attendant benefits to other equipment. It is worth noting that the key to the door was measuring compressed air flow at various points in the system.

ecoVaro specialises in analysing data like this on any energy type. 

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Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS): An Overview

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Energy management is crucial to most businesses in the UK. This is primarily because energy usage substantially affects all organizations, whether large or small. The good news is that, energy costs can be controlled through improved energy efficiency. And this is exactly why Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) came into being – to promote competitiveness among businesses.

Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme is the realisation of the UK Government’s ambition towards achieving the maximum potential of cost-effective energy in the economy. ESOS aims to stimulate innovation and growth, cut emissions and support a sustainable energy system.

ESOS at a Glance – Legal Perspective

The EU Energy Efficiency Directive took a major step forward on November 14, 2012 and headed towards establishing a framework to promote energy efficiency across various economic sectors. To interpret Article 8 of the Directive, the government has given birth to ESOS; requiring large enterprises to undergo mandatory energy audits and energy management systems by December 5, 2015 and at least every 4 years thereafter.

Large enterprises include UK companies that have more than 250 employees or those businesses whose annual turnover exceeds £50 million and whose statement of financial position totals more than £43 million. With this, over 7000 of the biggest companies in Britain will need to comply with ESOS as an approach to review their total energy use in buildings, business operations, transport and industrial processes.

Generally, ESOS is both an obligation and an opportunity. It is an obligation for the indicated target companies since they need to submit to additional regimes; focus on audit evidences; act in accordance to group structures and compliance; and observe limited penalties and note retention periods. Moreover, it is also an opportunity for companies to strive for more savings on energy projects; attempt to standardise their potential market; and effectively lower debt and legal costs.

ESOS Audits – Looking Beyond

According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), average first audit costs would be estimated at about £17,000 and subsequent ones at around £10,000. As expected, these audits will result in energy saving recommendations, of which companies need not proceed for a follow up; and substantially improve businesses in their energy management issues. DECC further states that every business that complies with ESOS could save an average of £56,400 each year from an initial investment of £17,000 only.

Currently, up to 6,000 UK businesses are already subject to existing CRC Carbon Reduction Scheme, Mandatory Carbon Reporting, Climate Change Levy and other compliance. This signifies that ESOS may overlap with prevailing energy efficiency legislation and may put additional pressure on energy administration. While this is true, however, ESOS holds extensive benefits. Although the scheme can be viewed as another costly compliance to environmental standards, ESOS goes straight to the bottom line and provides the organisation with competitive advantage. If large businesses act now and comply with it, they will be able to enjoy maximised payback in the long run.

Indeed, Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme is already here. It is mandatory with minimal investment. And all you have to do is act quickly, implement new improvements and earn more.

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Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

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Climate change creates a loud buzz across the globe. People are talking about how extreme the weather is, how polluted the environment has become or how devastating the results of carbon emissions are. While it is true that humans contribute a large impact to the worsening climate situations, people are also the most influential key towards making this world a better place. As much as the increase in carbon emissions results from what you do, the healthy change can also start in you.

Although it is a bit difficult to determine what you can do to help the society, do not be disheartened. The devastating forces may be massive for you to work through, but there are countless simple actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprints day by day.

Home

While you are in the comfort of your home, you can start saving energy to reduce your carbon emission. You could replace your standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. A compact fluorescent bulb saves more than 2/3rds or up to 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide in its lifetime. This bulb contains mercury, so make sure to choose a brand that has lower mercury than others.

Another thing, you can do to reduce your carbon footprint at home, is to mind your electronics. When you do not use your gadgets and appliances, make sure you unplug them. If you buy new ones, take time to look at the energy rating of the electronics to save you more energy in future use.

Alternative renewable energy is also a good thing to shift into. Try solar, hydro or wind power at home. Setting up your own residential solar panels and building your own turbines are excellent ways to choose green energy.

Food

The food industry is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions. You may not have control over the food processing, but you can lower your carbon footprint by buying local products in the market. These local products are not transported from far off places, so the carbon dioxide released from them is lower compared to imported ones. Take a look at the packaging as well; less packaging means less waste.

If you have a big backyard, you could use your it to grow food.  Eating food, either fruit or vegetable, which you grow at home is energy efficient. No more fuel combustion from transportation and other consequent food processing.

Travel

When you have your own car, accelerating it slowly and smoothly, as well as maintaining speed while driving will help lower your carbon emissions. If you drive a lot, it would be better to get a green car. As of now, you can consider using public transportation and go for road travel rather than air travel when you take long distance trips. But when you need to take planes, better choose a non-stop flight instead of connecting ones.

Indeed, there are many ways you can combat global warming and climate change. The road to improved life quality through energy efficiency might be hard, but a transformed lifestyle can make a big difference. Start now – lighten your carbon footprint and help save the world.

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Sources of Carbon Emissions

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Exchange of carbon dioxide among the atmosphere, land surface and oceans is performed by humans, animals, plants and even microorganisms. With this, they are the ones responsible for both producing and absorbing carbon in the environment. Nature’s cycle of CO2 emission and removal was once balanced, however, the Industrial Revolution began and the carbon cycle started to go wrong. The fact is that human activities substantially contributed to the addition of CO2 in the atmosphere.

According to statistics gathered by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, carbon dioxide comprises 82% of UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. This makes carbon dioxide the main greenhouse gas contributing to the pollution and subsequent climate change in UK.

Types of Carbon Emissions

There are two types of carbon emissions – direct and indirect. It is easier to measure the direct emissions of carbon dioxide, which includes the electricity and gas people use in their homes, the petrol burned in cars, distance of flights taken and other carbon emissions people are personally responsible for. Various tools are already available to measure direct emissions each day.

Indirect emissions, on the other hand, include the processes involved in manufacturing food and products and transporting them to users’ doors. It is a bit difficult to accurately measure the amount of indirect emission.

Sources of Carbon Emissions

The sources of carbon emissions refer to the sectors of end-users that directly emit them. They include the energy, transport, business, residential, agriculture, waste management, industrial processes and public sectors. Let’s learn how these sources contribute carbon emissions to the environment.

Energy Supply

The power stations that burn coal, oil or gas to generate electricity hold the largest portion of the total carbon emissions. The carbon dioxide is emitted from boilers at the bottom of the chimney. The electricity, produced from the fossil fuel combustion, emits carbon as it is supplied to homes, commercial establishments and other energy users.

Transport

The second largest carbon-emitting source is the transport sector. This results from the fuels burned in diesel and petrol to propel cars, railways, shipping vehicles, aircraft support vehicles and aviation, transporting people and products from one place to another. The longer the distance travelled, the more fuel is used and the more carbon is emitted.

Business

This comprises carbon emissions from combustion in the industrial and commercial sectors, off-road machinery, air conditioning and refrigeration.

Residential

Heating houses and using electricity in the house, produce carbon dioxide. The same holds true to cooking and using garden machinery at home.

Agriculture

The agricultural sector also produces carbon dioxide from soils, livestock, immovable combustion sources and other machinery associated with agricultural activities.

Waste Management

Disposing of wastes to landfill sites, burning them and treating waste water also emit carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.

Industrial Processes

The factories that manufacture and process products and food also release CO2 , especially those factories that manufacture steel and iron.

Public

Public sector buildings that generate power from fuel combustion also add to the list of carbon emission sources, from heating to other public energy needs.

Everybody needs energy and people burn fossil fuels to create it. Knowing how our energy use affects the environment, as a whole, enables us to take a step ahead towards achieving better climate.

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Key Steps to Complying with ESOS

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Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme has already been launched. In fact, it is by now in its initial phase. However, many businesses are still not aware of the new scheme, especially those who are covered by the qualifications for ESOS. To help them understand what they need to do in compliance to the energy efficiency strategy, here are key steps they can follow along the way.

Measure Overall Energy Consumption

The first step to complying with ESOS is to make an initial estimate of the business’ energy consumption. This includes measuring the use of electricity, renewable energy, combustible fuels and all other forms of energy consumed whether in buildings, transports and industrial processes.

Three important factors to consider are the measurement units used, the reference period and quality of data. Energy units, such as MWh and GJ, or energy expenditure costs should be applied. Business enterprises should also do the initial measurement within a reference period of 12 months. Moreover, data collected should be verifiable at hand.

Identify Areas of Significant Energy Consumption

When the total energy consumption for all the activities and assets has already been estimated, it’s then time to identify what areas in the organisation comprise the significant portion of the overall energy usage. The areas recognised should cover at least 90% of the overall consumption. Meaning to say, ESOS participants have the chance to omit 10% of the energy consumption and instead focus on the 90%. This would ensure that subsequent energy audits will be cost-effective and proportionate.

Consider and Choose Compliance Routes

In order to comply with ESOS, qualified businesses should consider what compliance routes to take. These routes include taking series of energy audits, operating and implementing a certified ISO 50001 energy management system, acquiring Display Energy Certificates (DECs) and working with Green Deal assessments. Whichever route the business takes, one should maintain credible evidences, along with helpful documents, to certify their compliance.

Report the Compliance

Except when the large enterprise covers all the significant areas of energy consumption by means of ISO 50001 certification, one should appoint a lead assessor to supervise, conduct and review the organisation’s chosen ESOS compliance route. In this case, the approved assessments should then be signed off at board level to ensure that the conclusions and recommendations for energy savings are properly carried. To confirm their compliance, the business should submit a formal notification to the Environment Agency.

Because ESOS is not just an opportunity but also an obligation, it designated compliance bodies and gave them the authority to file civil penalties towards those who fail to comply with the scheme. Not only that, these appropriate authorities have the right to publish information about non-compliant enterprises including their name, details of non-compliance and corresponding penalty amount. Among these UK compliance bodies are Natural Resources Wales, Environment Agency in England, The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

So, if you are covered with the ESOS qualifications, make sure to be informed. As the famous saying goes, “Ignorance of the law excuses no one.” Likewise, awareness of ESOS is a responsibility every large business in UK should give importance to.

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Shared Services – Are They A Good Idea

Things happen fast in business and we need to stay on top. It does not seem long ago that some enterprises were still hands-on traders or artisans with a few youngsters to help out. People like that did not do admin and their accounting was a matter of making sure there was enough money in the jar.

When Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton took over his first shop in 1945 things had moved on from there, although he did still deal directly with his customers. When he died his legacy was 380,000 jobs, and a business larger than most economies. So there’s plenty we can learn from how he grew his business.

One of Sam’s secrets was his capacity to centralise what needed gathering together, while empowering store managers to think independently when it came to local conditions. His regional warehouses had individual outlets clustered around them within one day’s drive each. This shared service eliminated 90% of safety stock and released capital for expansion.

Wal-Mart took sharing services a step further in February 2006, when it centralised accounts payable, accounts receivable, general accounting and human resources administration at Wal-Mart Stores and Sam’s Clubs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The objective was to bring costs down, while allowing local managers more time to focus on their business plans and other initiatives. As a further spin-off, Wal-Mart was able to integrate its data on a single SAP platform and eliminate significant roadblocks.

This is an excellent example of sharing services by creating own centres of excellence.  Of course, this is not the only business possibility. Other corporates have successfully completely outsourced their support activities, and Wal-Mart has no doubt had a variety of similar offers too. But, is the Wal-Mart picture entirely rosy, or is there a catch?

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants has indicated that top talent may be the loser globally. This is because the Wal-Mart model removes many challenges through standardisation, and offers less scope for internal promotion as a result. Language and cultural differences may also have a long-term detrimental effect on the way the departments work well together.

Local outsourcing – this is the business model where several firms engage a shared service provider independently- may hence prove to be a more malleable option for smaller companies. It often makes more sense to hunt down made-to-order services. Offerings such as the professional support we offer on this site.

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How COBIT helps you achieve SOX Compliance

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First released way back in 1996, COBIT has already been around for quite a while. One reason why it never took off was because companies were never compelled to use it … until now. Today, many CEOs and CIOs are finding it to be a vital tool for achieving SOX compliance in IT.

Thanks to SOX, COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and related Technology) is now one of the most widely accepted source of guidance among companies who have IT integrated with their accounting/financial systems. It has also gained general acceptability with third parties and regulators. But how did this happen?

Role of control frameworks in SOX compliance

You see, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, despite having clearly manifested the urgency of establishing effective internal controls, does not provide a road map for you to follow nor does it specify a yardstick to help you determine whether an acceptable mileage in the right direction has already been achieved.

In other words, if you were a CIO and you wanted to find guidance on what steps you had to take to achieve compliance, you wouldn’t be able to find the answers in the legislation itself.

That can be a big problem. Two of your main SOX compliance obligations as a CEO or CIO is to assume responsibility in establishing internal controls over financial reporting and to certify their effectiveness. After that, the external auditors are supposed to attest to your assertions. Obviously, there has to be a well-defined basis before you can make such assertions and auditors can attest to anything.

In the language of auditors, this “well-defined basis” is known as a control framework. Simply put, once you certify the presence of adequate internal controls in your organisation, the external auditor will ask, “What control framework did you use?”

Knowing what control framework you employed will help external auditors determine how to proceed with their evaluations and tests. For your part, a control framework can serve as a guide to help you work towards specific objectives for achieving compliance. Both of you can use it as a common reference point before drawing any conclusions regarding your controls.

But there are many control frameworks out there. What should you use?

How SOX, COSO, and COBIT fit together

Fortunately, despite SOX’s silence regarding control frameworks, you aren’t left entirely to your own devices. You could actually take a hint from the SEC and PCAOB, two of the lead organisations responsible for implementing SOX. SEC and PCAOB point to the adoption of any widely accepted control framework.

In this regard, they both highly endorse COSO, a well-established internal control framework formulated by the Committee of Sponsoring Organisations of the Treadway Commission (COSO). Now, I must tell you, if you’re looking specifically for instructions pertaining to IT controls, you won’t find those in COSO either.

Although COSO is the most established control framework for enterprise governance and risk management you’ll ever find (and in fact, it’s what we recommend for your general accounting processes), it lacks many IT-related details. What is therefore needed for your IT processes is a framework that, in addition to being highly aligned with COSO, also provides more detailed considerations for IT.

This is where COBIT fits the bill.

How COBIT can contribute to your regulatory compliance endeavors

COBIT builds upon and adheres with COSO while providing a finer grain of detail focused on IT. You can even find a mapping between COBIT IT processes and COSO components within the COBIT document itself.

Designed with regulatory compliance in mind, COBIT lays down a clear path for developing policies and good practice for IT control, thus enabling you to bridge the gap between control requirements, technical issues, and business risks.

Some of the components you’ll find in COBIT include:

IT control objectives

These are statements defining specific desired results that, as a whole, characterise a well-managed IT process. They come in two forms for each COBIT-defined IT process: a high-level control objective and a number of detailed control objectives. These objectives will enable you to have a sense of direction by telling you exactly what you need to aim for.

Maturity models

These are used as benchmarks that give you a relative measurement stating where your level of management or control over an IT process or high-level control objective stands. It serves as a basis for setting as-is and to-be positions and enables support for gap analysis, which determines what needs to be done to achieve a chosen level. Basically, if a control objective points you to a direction, then its corresponding maturity model tells you how far in that direction you’ve gone.

RACI charts

These charts tell you who (e.g. CEO, CFO, Head of Operations, Head of IT Administration) should be Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed for each activity.

Goals and Metrics

These are sets of goals along with the corresponding metrics that allow you to measure against those goals. Goals and metrics are defined in three levels: IT goals and metrics, which define what business expects from IT; process goals and metrics, which define what the IT process should deliver to support IT’s objectives; and activity goals and metrics, which measure how well the process is performing.

In addition to those, you’ll also find mappings of each process to the information criteria involved, IT resources that need to be leveraged, and the governance focus areas that are affected.

Everything is presented in a logical and manageable structure, so that you can easily draw connections between IT processes and business goals, which will in turn help you decide what appropriate governance and control is needed. Ultimately, COBIT can equip you with the right tools to maintain a cost-benefit balance as you work towards achieving SOX compliance.

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How To Get Started with your IT Compliance Efforts for SOX

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There’s no question about it. For many of you top executives in the corporate world, all roads leading to a brighter future have to go through SOX compliance. And because the business processes that contribute to financial reporting (the crux of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act) are now highly reliant on IT systems, it is important to focus a good part of your attention there.

It is a long and arduous path to IT compliance, so if you don’t want your company to fall by the wayside due to inefficient utilisation of resources, it is important to set out with a plan on hand. What we have here are some vital information that will guide you in putting together a sound plan for SOX compliance of your company’s IT systems.

Why focus on IT systems for SOX compliance?

We’ll get to that. But first, let’s take up the specific portions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that affect information technology. These portions can be found in Section 302 and Section 404 of the act.

In simplified form, Section 302 grants the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) authority to come up with rules requiring you, CEOs and CFOs, to certify in each annual or quarterly financial report the following:

  • that you have reviewed the report;
  • that based on your knowledge, the report does not contain anything or leave out anything that would render it misleading;
  • that based on your knowledge, all financial information in the report fairly represent the financial conditions of the company;
  • that you are responsible for establishing internal controls over financial reporting; and
  • that you have assessed the effectiveness of the internal controls.

Similarly, Section 404, stated in simplified form, allows the SEC to come up with rules requiring you, CEOs and CFOs, to add an internal control report to each annual financial report stating that you are responsible for establishing internal controls over financial reporting.

You are also required to assess the effectiveness of those controls and to have a public accounting firm to attest to your assessment based upon standards adopted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).

While there is no mention of IT systems, IT systems now play a significant role in financial reporting. Practically all of the data you need for your financial reports are stored, retrieved and processed on IT systems, so you really have to include them in your SOX compliance initiatives and establish controls on them.

Now that that’s settled, your next question could very well be: How do you know what controls to install and whether those controls are already sufficient to achieve compliance?

Finding a suitable guide for IT compliance

The two bodies responsible for setting rules and standards dealing with SOX, SEC and PCAOB, point to a well-established control framework for guidance – COSO. This framework was drafted by the Committee of Sponsoring Organisations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) and is the most widely accepted control framework in the business world.

However, while COSO is a tested and proven framework, it is more suitable for general controls. What we recommend is a widely-used control framework that aligns well with COSO but also caters to the more technical features and issues that come with IT systems.

Taking into consideration those qualifiers, we recommend COBIT. COBIT features a well thought out collection of IT-related control objectives grouped into four domains: Plan and Organise (PO), Acquire and Implement (AI), Deliver and Support (DS), and Monitor and Evaluate (ME). The document also includes maturity models, performance goals and metrics, and activity goals.

A few examples of COBIT’s detailed control objectives are:

DS4.2 – IT Continuity Plans
DS4.9 – Offsite Backup Storage
DS5.4 – User Account Management
DS5.8 – Cryptographic Key Management
DS5.10 – Network Security
DS5.11 – Exchange of Sensitive Data

By those titles alone, you can see that the framework is specifically designed for IT. But the document is quite extensive and, chances are, you won’t need all of the items detailed there. Furthermore, don’t expect COBIT to specify a control solution controls for every control objective. For example, throughout the control objective DS4 (Ensure Continuous Service), you won’t find any mention of virtualisation, which is common in any modern business continuity solution.

Basically, COBIT will tell you what you need to attain in order to achieve effective governance, management and control, but you’ll have to pick the solution best suited to reach that level of attainment.

Articles highly relevant to the one you just read:

Month End Accounting The Way It Should Be Today
Spreadsheet Woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and Other Regulations
Spreadsheet Woes – Limited Features For Easy Adoption of a Control Framework
How Internal Auditors Can Win The War Against Spreadsheet Fraud

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