John L. Kmetz, The Information Processing Theory of Organization: ManagingTechnology Accession in Complex Systems. London: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1998. 424 pages. ISBN: 1 84014 427 0.

This book develops and validates the Information Processing Theory of organization (IPT). The expression "information processing" (IP) is a summary term for all of the activities and methods an organization uses to create and apply the knowledge needed to achieve its goals. Validating the theory is difficult because IP is intangible. What is more, because terms like "information" and "IP" are so widely used, they have many different interpretations; therefore, the first task this book undertakes is to define these terms and basic concepts.

The validation of IPT is done in the context of the aviation electronics ("avionics") maintenance function within the US Naval Air Systems Command. In part, this book is a story about the development of the first generation of true Automatic Test Equipment, the Versatile Avionics Shop Test (VAST) system, which was created to repair avionics for the Navy's carrier-based aircraft (the F-14A interceptor, the S-3A antisubmarine aircraft, and E-2C airborne warning and control aircraft). This story provides nontechnical readers with adequate background knowledge to understand how IPT was validated, but without unnecessary technical details.

The theory was validated by mapping and analyzing performance in the avionics repair workflow, using both direct and indirect approaches. Directly, a three-wave quasi-experiment was conducted, observing changes in objective measures of the performance of the maintenance process. These data were sampled from three separate years in which changes in the IP system, both positive and negative, were made at three of the four shore repair sites observed in the study; the fourth served as a fortuitous control site. Carrier data were also examined through cross-sectional comparison of Atlantic and Pacific Fleet data for one year.

Indirectly, a larger study of the performance of the entire maintenance process and organization, and the logistics support provided for it, were performed to determine whether other variables might explain changes in the objective performance measures. This work included a literature review of a number of engineering and other studies done prior to the comprehensive study to which I contributed. The logistics support variables included major parts of the overall support for avionics maintenance, including spare parts, personnel and training, technical documentation, and other items. My conclusion, along with the rest of the team performing the comprehensive study, was that logistics support variables alone could not explain the variations in the objective performance of the VAST system.

Thus, the information processing capacity of the repair system was shown to be the primary determinant of system performance, with or without the use of information technology. Additional support for this interpretation was found in experience of the Canadian Forces with the CF-18 and newer test and information technologies deployed in the 1980's and 1990's.
Embedded in this story is work bearing directly one of the most important questions about information technology: does information technology have a measurable payoff, and particularly one that justifies its cost? The answer from this study is a clear "yes," provide that the information technology is designed and implemented around a clear understanding of the workflow process. Equally important, the study demonstrates that without such understanding, attempts to improve organizational performance which do not provide adequate information processing capacity will not succeed.

The book may be of interest to professionals in a number of different fields, including organization theory, operations and production specialists, electrical and electronic engineering, information systems specialists, and automatic test equipment professionals. It may be ordered from a number of booksellers, or directly from the publisher at www.ashgate.com.