APICS Returns To Its Roots

October, 2004

At its 2004 international conference held in San Diego last week (October 10 – 13), APICS formally announced its new name: “APICS The Association for Operations Management.” At the same time, the association also announced a new tag line—Advancing Productivity, Innovation, and Competitive Success.

To understand the significance of this, a review of APICS’ long history is in order. APICS was founded in 1957 as The American Production and Inventory Control Society, but since that name was a bit lengthy, the society has always been referred to as APICS. (APICS is pronounced AYE-PICKS. If you say the name by spelling out the letters, A-P-I-C-S, you are clearly an outsider).

APICS has made major contributions to industry in its nearly 40 years:

  • APICS, and its fathers such as George Plossl and Ollie Wight, made a huge contribution by upgrading the production planner’s job to a true profession. Much of the professionalism of production and inventory management came from the APICS certification program, the CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management), which became almost a universal prerequisite for promotion.
  • In the early 1970s, the organization launched what it called an “MRP Crusade” to promote the new (at the time) concept of material requirements planning as a superior way to manage inventory, in contrast to the traditional order point systems. Ultimately, the Wall Street Journal credited APICS for the widespread adoption of MRP, which has contributed to the softening of so-called “inventory recessions.”
  • In the 1980s and early 1990s, APICS was at the forefront of the Just-in-Time approach to manufacturing, which is now generally referred to as lean manufacturing.
  • In the early 1990s, the society also embraced the theory of constraints, as set forth by Eli Goldratt in “The Goal,” and has been one of its main promoters.

I’ve been an APICS member continuously since 1978, I’ve been certified as an APICS Fellow since 1981, and I’ve spoken at many APICS meetings and conferences. So I’ve witnessed much of this first hand.

In the early 1990s, APICS became dissatisfied with its narrow focus on production and inventory management, and decided to take a more generalist approach. The rubric would now be “resource management,” that is, helping companies (not just manufacturing companies) plan, manage, and control all of the resources (people, machines, material, etc.) that they needed to deliver goods and services to customers. APICS launched a second certification program, the CIRM (Certified in Resource Management), which would focus broadly on all of the functional areas of an organization and their interrelationships. If that sounds vague, it is. I was one of the first APICS members certified as CIRM in addition to my CFPIM.

In my opinion, APICS started to wander during this time. It dropped “Production and Inventory Management” from its name, in favor of “APICS—The Educational Society for Resource Management.” When people would ask us, “What does APICS stand for?” we had a hard time answering, since the letters no longer stood for anything. We were just “APICS.”

That was well over 10 years ago. Since that time, attendance at APICS events has been flat—at best. I recall in the late 1970s, Orange County APICS monthly dinner meetings with over 300 in attendance. These days, it’s 40 to 50. APICS points to the steady decline in manufacturing industry employment over the past 20 years, the move to offshore manufacturing, the thinning of management ranks (leaving managers with less time for outside professional groups), and general cutbacks in corporate training budgets as reasons for the decline in membership and attendance. As evidence, they point to other similar professional societies, such as ISM (formerly National Association of Purchasing Managers, NAPM), that have had somewhat similar declines.

But still, I can’t help but feel that APICS lost something by trying to broaden its focus instead of sharpening it. In the 1970s and 1980s, APICS literally defined the body of knowledge for production and inventory management. It now needs to continue to expand and strengthen that body of knowledge with new learning and new technologies.

The new name, “APICS The Association for Operations Management,” recognizes that APICS is truly an organization focused on the operations function. That’s broader than production and inventory management, but still narrow enough to appeal to the professionals that APICS wants as members. However, if it’s just a name change, it won’t mean much. The name change needs to be the first step in a renewed focus on the things that give APICS its proud legacy.

October 2004