Nesting Contexts

This post is part of my collaborative research with Shinsei Bank on highly-evolvable enterprise architectures.  It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.  I am indebted to Jay Dvivedi and his team at Shinsei Bank for sharing with me the ideas developed here.  All errors are my own.

Simon emphasizes the importance of hierarchy in managing complexity.  In Jay’s architecture, hierarchy manifests itself in the nesting of Contexts.  A Context is a logical location where an agent, in a role, goes to perform an action.  Nesting these Contexts enables the creation of specialized locations for different kinds of actions, while hiding the complexity associated with specialization from the rest of the system.

Jay uses the metaphor of a house to explain the nesting of Contexts.  A house is where a family performs most of its daily activities.  Within the house, there are multiple rooms — kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms, bathrooms — designed to accommodate different kinds of tasks.  Within the rooms, there are multiple furnishings specialized for a variety of purposes, such as bookshelves, stoves, refrigerators, showers, beds, tables, and desks.  Some of these furnishings are further subdivided: trays in the refrigerator designed for storing eggs, drawers in the desk designed for storing hanging files, etc.

The cost of building separate spaces and the inconvenience of moving between them limits the extent of nesting.  There probably are no houses with separate washbasins designed specifically and exclusively for hand washing, shaving, and tooth brushing (although washbasins in kitchens, bathrooms, and garages are often specialized for their respective tasks).  For computer systems, however, the cost of building separate spaces and the effort required to move between them is extremely low, to the point that most actions with meaningful interpretations at the business process level can probably be separated within hierarchically nested contexts.

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