When multiple organisations want to collaborate with one another they have to integrate their business processes. This requires aligning the collaborative business processes and the underlying IT (Information Technology). Realizing the required alignment is, however, not trivial and is the subject of this thesis.
We approached the issue of alignment in three steps. First, we explored business-IT alignment problems in detail in a real-life business case. This is done in order to clarify what alignment of business processes and IT systems across a collaboration network entails. Second, we provided a business-IT alignment framework called BITA* (pronounce bita-star). The framework provides modelling abstractions for alignment. Third, we applied the framework in two real-life case studies, including the real-life business case used in step one. By applying the framework in practice we showed that the framework can, in fact, help to address the business-IT alignment problems that we identified in the first step.
The work presented in this thesis is conducted over a number of years in the context of four large EU sponsored research projects. The projects focused on alignment problems in two very distinct application areas. Two projects were about realizing transparency systems for meat supply chains and constitute the first case study. The other two projects were about realizing multidisciplinary modelling collaboration systems and constitute the second case study. Although the projects were conducted sequentially the research questions were addressed iteratively over the years. The research methodology that shows how the framework is designed and how the case studies are applied is discussed in detail in chapter 2.
In chapter 3 we present BITA*, a Business-IT Alignment framework for multiple collaborating organisations. The main challenges in designing BITA* have been what models to consider for alignment and how to compare them in order to make explicit statements about alignment. We addressed this problem by introducing allocation and alignment modelling constructs to help the alignment process, and the concept of business collaboration model to represent the models that have to be aligned. We identified three groups of stakeholders for whom we designed explicit design viewpoints and associated allocation and alignment models. The Business Process to Business Process (BP2BP) alignment viewpoint is designed for business analysts who have to align diverse business collaboration process models. The IT to IT (IT2IT) alignment viewpoint is designed for software architects to align the distribution of data and IT systems across a collaboration network. The Business Process to IT (BP2IT) alignment viewpoint is designed for an interdisciplinary team of business analysts and software architects who have to align the different ways of supporting business collaboration processes with distributed IT system.
An essential element of this thesis has been elaborating how business-IT alignment problems occur in the context of multi-organisational collaboration. The case studies were used to demonstrate business-IT alignment concerns. Particularly, the details of the first case study presented in chapters 4 and 5 were used in chapter 3 to help derive the alignment framework. The case study presented an ideal problem scenario since realizing transparency across supply chains is intrinsically a collaborative effort. The second case study was used to enhance the validity of our approach. The results of the second case study are presented in chapter 6.
The alignment framework was designed during the iterative process we followed when realizing a generic transparency system for meat supply chains. To realize the required generic transparency system we needed a reference architecture. To derive the reference architecture we adapted an already existing and broadly-accepted generic reference architecture. We have to adapt the generic reference architecture in order to address specific requirements of the meat sector that were not considered in the generic reference architecture. The adaptation process made it clear that we needed models for representing business collaborations. We, therefore, introduced the notion of business collaboration model, which we used both to model reference architectures and to adapt them. Adaptation required aligning the generic reference architecture with the diverse business collaboration models adopted by the organisations that have to collaborate. The alignment framework is thus used for adapting a generic reference architecture in order to create a reference architecture that the collaborating organisations can, and are willing to, adopt.
We identified three types of business collaboration models: business collaboration process model, business collaboration IT model, and a model for representing the relationship between these two. A business collaboration process model is a business process model that spans a collaboration network. A business collaboration IT model is a model of the distribution of the IT across the collaboration network. A business collaboration process-IT model is a model of the relationships between the elements of the business collaboration processes and the elements of the distributed IT.
Each organisation is considered to adopt its own business collaboration models. For instance, different actors in meat supply chains have different views on how chain-wide transparency should be realized. Which business processes and IT systems each organisation has to deploy and use depends on the business collaboration models each food operator adopts. If two different food operators adopt the same set of business collaboration models, they are aligned; otherwise they are misaligned. Hence, alignment entails comparing the different business collaboration models adopted by the participating organisations. The results of the alignment process are explicit statements about how convergent or divergent the organisations are from the chosen generic reference architecture. The explicit statements of alignment guide how best the generic and the corresponding organisational business collaboration models can be adapted to create a better state of alignment.
To further enhance the validity of the overall approach the second case study was conducted. The second case study was a retrospective investigation of two past research projects focusing on aligning environmental modelling processes and IT systems. A retrospective case study was chosen because launching a new business-IT alignment project involving multiple collaborating organisations was not feasible. The projects were undertaken to support the European Water Framework Directive, which mandated, among other things, participatory, multidisciplinary, river-basin wide and model-based studies to manage the water resources of Europe. The directive particularly required a collaborative approach to building environmental decision support systems and to deriving methodologies for applying existing decision support systems. We applied BITA* to aligning environmental modelling processes and IT systems in order to evaluate the suitability of the framework to addressing alignment problems in other application areas.
The contributions of the thesis are summarized in chapter 7. The contributions include a number of design artefacts, which can be grouped into four categories: constructs, models, methods, and instantiations. The contribution in the first category includes the conceptualization of allocation and alignment. The contributions in the second category include allocation and alignment models, and reference architectures. Allocation models are representations of business collaboration models in a form that can be compared and are the basis for alignment modelling. The main contribution in the third category is the BITA* systematic approach to alignment modelling. The contributions in the fourth category are the software systems developed with the help of the reference architectures.