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Dubai Customs COBIT 5 Implementation

By Vishal Vyas, GEIT, Juma Al Ghaith, Ahmad Al Yaqoobi, PMP, and Syed Junaid Hasan, PMP

COBIT Focus | 18 January 2016

Dubai Customs is a complex and dynamic organization. The management at Dubai Customs endeavors to be on the leading edge of the latest management principles and frameworks and it utilizes many global best practices to manage activities in all business processes. The organization recognized the need for a single integrated framework, like COBIT 5, that encompasses all of these best practices and standards.

Dubai Customs was established more than 100 ago. The department is responsible for facilitating trade and helps secure the integrity of Dubai’s borders against smuggling attempts. Collecting customs revenues and administering trade measures are other major duties of Dubai Customs, which supports fair trade practices and ensures that international conventions and agreements are strictly followed by the trade community.

Customs Development Division (CDD), a division of Dubai Customs, ensures the continuous development and modernization of Dubai Customs’ initiatives as well as the procedures and services it provides to its customers.

To achieve excellence and maintain growth, CDD combines strong management with a pool of highly qualified and skilled personnel. It focuses on development in project management, leading-edge technologies, new computing environments and optimization of methodologies. Rapid growth in technology has resulted in the need for enterprises to increase productivity and integrate all available information. CDD has met these challenges by effectively utilizing disparate approaches and resources.

Drivers for COBIT in the Organization

Over the years, Dubai Customs has used a number of frameworks including the Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), ISO 2000, ISO 27000, and The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) for various purposes and activities.

Due to the very complex nature of this business environment, Dubai Customs has to balance the conflicting goals of promoting and facilitating trade and securing the country’s boundary against any intellectual property (IP) infringement or illegal trade. To support business objectives effectively, individual departments within Dubai Customs are encouraged to seek, prepare for and implement global best practices that are relevant to that specific division on their own.

Over the years, this has developed into a unique scenario where most of the global frameworks and standards are present and each is managed by individual departments within Dubai Customs. Frequently, many components of these various frameworks are relevant to other functional areas or departments. However, there was a need for a more effective integrating framework to enhance the benefit realized by these best practices.

Dubai Customs management determined that it would be better to have a single integrated governance framework and system working across the organization that could connect all the implemented best practices in the organization and deliver value to entire organization.

CDD also had strong project management, risk management, schedule and quality assurance practices which were well managed for projects individually, with the assistance of a project management office (PMO). However, CDD management identified the need of an integrated governance layer for all the functional areas.

After an exploration workshop and detailed discussions with Dubai Customs leadership and functional teams, the organization’s pain points were identified and COBIT 5 was agreed upon as the preferred framework to address two prominent areas:

  • To act as a single integrated framework with references to other best practices and standards
  • To establish a governance system to evaluate, direct and monitor the organization’s strategic efforts

Building the Task Force

As the COBIT 5 implementation project was formally initiated, the guiding principles for resource management were agreed upon: Take a phased approach and use in-house resources actively in all implementation tasks in order to build sustainability. Taking a phased approach refers to identifying the phases in which the processes will be selected according to business priorities and the goals cascade. Use of in-house resources for sustainability refers to involving internal people right from the initial tasks so that internal capability is developed to sustain this effort, rather than having sole dependency on consultants to interpret COBIT 5.

As the project sponsor, the CDD executive director expressed his full support and commitment in the project kick-off meeting. A formal steering committee was formed consisting of all the directors so that cross-functional tasks and dependencies could be managed well. This steering committee met biweekly throughout the duration of the project to monitor progress and decide on any needed course corrections.

The project team consisted of a project manager, a project champion and a COBIT 5 consultant. Project progress was monitored on an ongoing basis by the director of the Project Delivery department.

A single process owner for each COBIT 5 process was identified and brought on board early on to build a good rapport and cohesive team.

A task force for each process was created, which included the process owner and any other stakeholders involved in that specific process. This ensured that the project team was not overwhelmed by all the dependencies and cross-functional references. This participatory approach also helped to sustain the process even after project completion.


A phased approach to complete the implementation in 4 phases over 18 months was agreed upon. Considering the complexity and functional dependency of the project, 5 processes were to be considered in phase 1 and 5 more were focused on in phase 2. Process prioritization was based on the impact and relevance of the process in the organization, the complexity of the process, its dependency on other processes and the efforts required for implementation. Based on these parameters, the selected processes for phase 1 were Build, Acquire and Implement BAI10, BAI06, BAI01; Align, Plan and Organize APO13; and Deliver, Service and Support DSS05. The selected processes for phase 2 were DSS02, DSS03, APO09, APO02 and DSS01 (figure 1).

Figure 1—Process Prioritization Based on Organizational Context

View Large Graphic
Source: V. Vyas, J. Al Ghaith, A. Al Yaqoobi and S. J. Hasan. Reprinted with permission.

The COBIT Goals Cascade (figure 2) was used to prioritize the processes to be selected for implementation and adaptation. After detailed discussion with the project sponsor and business stakeholders, business goals were understood and developed into strategic goals set by the Dubai government for Dubai Customs to achieve various national interests such as Dubai Smart Government objectives.

Figure 2—COBIT Goals Cascade Overview

Source: ISACA, COBIT 5, USA 2012

Once the processes for each phase were prioritized, each implementation phase followed a standard approach of process review, process design and customization, process deployment, and post deployment review. Figure 3 shows the phase outlines.

Figure 3—Phase Outline for Implementation

Source: V. Vyas, J. Al Ghaith, A. Al Yaqoobi, and S. J. Hasan. Reprinted with permission.

In the orientation session, the approach, deadlines, benefits and risk factors for the project were clearly communicated. The commitment of the task force was verified and reiterated. Other relevant process stakeholders were briefed on the project and a formal task force for each process was created.

In the process review stage, all process practices and activities mapped to a specific COBIT 5 process were reviewed for completeness, artifacts, inputs, outputs, documentation, repeatability, awareness and many more parameters with the intention of aligning it to COBIT 5. A comprehensive list of observations and recommended alignment points was created.

In the design and customization stage, the process work flow was discussed with the process task force in detail, and each observation and alignment recommendation was discussed for its practicality, value, impact and any other possible implications. For each accepted recommendation, detailed action points for implementation were documented with ownership and deadlines, and after iterative discussions, process document and relevant templates were updated.

In the process deployment phase, the updated process was communicated to all stakeholders, awareness sessions for updated process were conducted, and walk-through sessions and follow ups were planned for each process.

For the post-deployment review stage, process execution and updated reports and artifacts were monitored after predefined intervals to ensure a sustained process implementation.

Organizational Change Enablement Efforts

The project team clearly understood the need to have a participative approach to build sustainability for these processes. It was emphasized at all times that updated processes are to be maintained by many internal people on an ongoing basis.

Dubai Customs had many processes already in place and people were already comfortable with the existing approaches and practices. It was made clear that unnecessary changes would not be made and process areas would be updated only when clear, identifiable benefits are present. There were few instances in which existing processes did not have clear, one-to-one mapping with COBIT 5 processes and nomenclature was considerably different from what is used in the framework.

At times, certain practices in individual COBIT 5 processes were managed by different functions and teams as part of different processes. In such instances, existing processes were studied in detail, dependency on other processes was determined and, subsequently, 2 or more processes were mapped to COBIT 5 process practices. Creating entirely new process practices simply for the sake of alignment with COBIT 5 practice was avoided whenever possible.

Benefit Realization

The organization appreciates that governance implementation and improvement is an ongoing effort. However, toward the end of this project, the project team could see noticeable improvements in process reporting and a single, integrated view of all the framework and standards. Specifically, reporting and monitoring components in the processes were improved leading to increases in customer satisfaction. Most of the processes in the organization had started using unified process templates in order to have common approaches to governance and reporting.

Road Ahead

Owing to positive results and improved governance controls aided by COBIT 5, the implementation project organization has decided to take up the next phases of processes implementation in the next fiscal year. This project will now involve 27 more processes and will have participation from all other teams and functions. Dubai Customs CDD has also established 2 specific objectives: to establish a business relationship management (BRM) function and to establish a governance steering committee.

Vishal Vyas, GEIT

Is vice president and principle consultant at Vinsys. He is a veteran consultant and experienced professional in governance and management framework mentoring and implementation. He works in complex and challenging environments with diverse teams to design, establish and improve processes for achieving business objectives. With diverse experience in various frameworks and standards, including ITIL, COBIT, ISO 20000 and TOGAF, Vyas understands business context and can devise relevant and practical solutions.

Juma Al Ghaith

Is executive director of Customs Development Division at Dubai Customs. He is a senior leader with 25 years of IT experience. He has excellent business understanding and technical knowledge. His vision is to achieve excellence for Dubai Customs in all IT and IT-enabled services.

Ahmad Al Yaqoobi, PMP

Is director of the Project Delivery department at Dubai Customs He is a dynamic professional with 15 years of project delivery and IT governance experience. His vision is to deliver organizational value through professional project management.

Syed Junaid Hasan, PMP

Is a practice manager with Dubai Customs. He is a well-experienced IT professional with diversified IT experience. Hasan has professional experience implementing industry best IT frameworks and standards. His vision is to develop and integrate a common approach for project management and IT practices.