Last March marked the 20th anniversary of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, a grass roots attempt by film buffs to show how Kevin Bacon was related to other actors within six association pairs or degrees of separation – a measure of social distance between people. Wikipedia offers the following definition – “Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away…” This past week I had an opportunity to attend Gartner EA Summit which focused on a continuation of the Digital Transformation theme introduced last year. During the two days, while I caught up with old acquaintances and met new ones, I was struck by my own version of the “degrees of separation” game, of the social network type. As I was listening to the presentations another thought crossed my mind – the balancing act organizations must undertake to manage the degrees of separation of the concepts that make up the enterprise’s architecture. The more successful the management of the concepts, the better positioned the organization is when it comes to changing the architectural landscape to drive change and provide competitive advantages.
Further reflection makes me think that there is a balancing act in the architectural domain that is similar to what we face in our own social domain. Maintaining a view of an enterprise’s architecture at a single degree of separation is similar to maintaining a representation of our own personal social network (all permutations and degrees) with simple single-degree separation rolodex cards – possible but impractical. Likewise, a view of an enterprise’s architecture that consists of nothing but six-degree connections can be efficient, but the more steps you add to the chain, the likelihood of waning causality and influence becomes an issue.
So what is the appropriate number of degrees of separation for your organization’s architecture, given the need to be agile and responsive to opportunities for digital transformation activities within the enterprise? The answer is a balance between effectiveness and maintainability – simple is easier to maintain for small contexts, but for larger views the rolodex gets full fast. On the other hand, multiple degrees of separation facilitate complex views, but are also the most prone to change, resulting in multiple maintenance cycles to keep the view current. For a given organization, the answer will be driven by the velocity and variability of what is predicted for embracing the digital economy. Your representation will most likely consist of a one-degree step for the most architecturally significant items, and larger numbered degree steps for relationships that need visibility for your transformation effort, but are less influential.
In the end, I hope you see how your architectural landscape is similar to the Kevin Bacon parlor game. Just for fun, how many degrees of separation are there between your organization and Kevin Bacon?