Original Title: Towards Multi-level Reference Models --- comparing conventional and multi-level approaches for the creation and use of reference models

Towards Multi-level Reference Models --- comparing conventional and multi-level approaches for the creation and use of reference models

  • Master Thesis Business Information Systems



Reference models are conceptual models which focus commonalities of organizations, within or across industries and/or application domains (Thomas, 2005) . Reference models hold several promises, like capitalizing on already encoded domain expertise instead of developing a domain model from scratch. As a result, reference models remain a topic of active interest for both practice and academia, as reflected in relatively recent industry reference models like the NISTIR 7628 for smart grid cybersecurity (NIST Smart Grid Cybersecurity Panel, 2010).

However, the creation of reference models comes with several challenges.

As pointed out in de Kinderen & Kaczmarek-Heß (2019) these challenges partly can be traced to the language architecture underlying reference models. In particular these language architectures often do not treat abstraction as a first class citizen. As a result, to model reference models with multiple levels of abstraction, which is typical for industry reference models like the NISTIR 7628, requires (i) workarounds, and (ii) in general comes with a set of inherent limitations which inhibit capitalizing on the full potential of reference modeling.


The purpose of this master thesis is to make a systematic comparison between conventional meta modeling approaches and multi-level modeling approaches for the purposes of reference modeling. To this end, based upon a motivated selection of a conventional and multi-leveling approach of choice for a well-documented reference model you draw a systematic comparison – specifically as this pertains the specificities of reference models.

As a point of departure, initially the focus will be on NISTIR 7628, which is a well-established reference model for smart grid cybersecurity. However, in discussion with the supervisor, another reference model can also be selected.


U. Frank, “Multilevel modeling – toward a new paradigm of conceptual modeling and information systems design,” BISE, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 319–337, 2014.

de Kinderen, S., & Kaczmarek-Heß, M. (2019, July). Multi-level Modeling as a Language Architecture for Reference Models: On the Example of the Smart Grid Domain. In 2019 IEEE 21st Conference on Business Informatics (CBI) (Vol. 1, pp. 174-183). IEEE.

NIST Smart Grid Cybersecurity Panel: NISTIR 7628-guidelines for smart grid cyber security vol. 1-3 (2010)

Fettke, P., Loos, P.: Perspectives on reference modeling. In Fettke, P., Loos, P., eds.: Reference Modeling for Business Systems Analysis. (2007) 1-21

Thomas, O.: Understanding the term reference model in information systems research: history, literature analysis and explanation. In: International Conference on Business Process Management, Springer (2005) 484-496

U. Frank, “Evaluation of reference models,” in Reference modeling for business systems analysis. IGI Global, 2007, pp. 118–140.