Defining moment: Business faculty tapped to edit global supply chain resource

1st February 2016

By Steven Krolak

You may not see Paul Pittman and Brian Atwater around campus much this semester.

They’re not hiding.

Far from it. The two School of Business faculty are actually hard at work on a project that will place them, and IU Southeast, in the global spotlight.

Pittman and Atwater are editing the 15th edition of the APICS Dictionary, the bedrock resource of the rapidly expanding global operations and supply chain management sector.

“The APICS Dictionary is a reference used by operations and supply chain management professionals worldwide as a foundation of the standardized terminology in our field,” said Pittman, professor of operations and supply chain management. “It is also used for a number of different high-stakes professional certifications both within APICS – the largest operations and supply chain management association – and other associations working in this area.”

IOW, if you want to work in this sector, already work in this sector, or seek to advance in this sector, you need this book.

More than words

Founded in 1957 as the American Production and Inventory Control Society, APICS brought out the first dictionary in 1963. Today the organization includes 43,000 members and 300 partners in over 200 countries. It contributes to the advancement of the industry through education, training publications and programs of certification in specific technical areas. The dictionary is updated every three years, and has become an important instrument for the education of practitioners and cohesion of the industry.

“The APICS Dictionary is an essential resource to professionals working in the supply chain and operations management industries, such as those in execution and control of operations, purchasing and customer relationship management, resource planning, and supply chain.” said Jennifer Proctor, director of industry content at APICS and overall manager of the project.

According to Proctor, Atwater and Pittman are the ideal team for the new edition.

“Brian and Paul not only bring their extensive knowledge of supply chain and operations management, but they also bring their meticulous and thoughtful workmanship to this important project,” she said. “It’s a huge job.”

How huge?

According to Atwater, assistant professor of operations and supply chain management, there are 4682 items in the 14th edition.

And the word count is only the beginning. The real meaning of the book is the role it plays in the working lives of its readers. It is a rigorously researched and vetted standard that provides correct terminology for a worldwide community of managers who need something approaching a universally accepted vocabulary for their industry to function in an increasingly complex environment.

Atwater and Pittman did not come to the dictionary overnight, but have grown with it as academics, as the dictionary and APICS itself have grown. They first worked on it as graduate students at the University of Georgia under faculty who were the editors at the time. Occupation with the dictionary deepened their knowledge of the industry, and increased their standing in it. Over the years they have even contributed terms of their own, such as “critical chain” (Pittman) and “protective capacity” (Atwater).

But the leap to full editorship this year was not a gimme, said Pittman. It was instead the result of the trust built up in the pair’s capabilities over years of active involvement on the committees responsible for writing the examinations for credentials such as the Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) and the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), both of which reference the dictionary.

Arbiters of consensus

On an everyday level, editing a dictionary takes a marathoner’s mind-set to move through a “mountain of terms” and an unwavering commitment to the academic principles underlying the dictionary, according to Atwater. It’s a working book, designed to be flipped through and dog-eared and marked up and spilled on; but like any lexicon, building it requires academic rigor and a systematic process. Every definition is formed and vetted by drawing on a number of different published reference sources.

The challenges come from many directions. There are interested parties who would like to see their own proprietary terminology and brand-speak legitimized as fundamental concepts of the trade, for example. On another front, professionals working in areas sensitive to espionage or terrorism are compelled to seek inclusion for government-issue terms that have no real standing in the industry or backing in peer-reviewed literature. Resisting these and other pressures is key to the integrity of the publication, and to the trust vested in the team, said Pittman.

At the same time, Atwater and Pittman must allow for the dynamic nature of their industry. They estimate that the new edition will include 250 new terms and changes to 200 others, a sign that the field has continued to expand in size and complexity.

“With each edition, the editors must make sure they are capturing advancements and changes, but not adding superfluous terms,” said Proctor. “For the 15th edition, it’s especially complicated as APICS is expanding its body of knowledge through the acquisition of the Supply Chain Council and the American Society of Transportation and Logistics.”

While these organizations were already largely using the dictionary as their own lingua franca, there can be slight but significant differences in the meaning and usage of common terms, so that Atwater and Pittman must at times act as the arbiters of consensus for the entire industry.

It helps that the two are close friends and longtime collaborators.

“For years we have never had any apprehension about strongly debating things.” said Pittman. “We admit that we don’t know, and we disagree, and that’s really important in somebody you’re working with.”

A global impact

IU Southeast students studying with Pittman and Atwater benefit from their role in APICS.

“Certainly they know they can trust that the terminology they see on the blackboard is accurate,” said Pittman.

For Atwater, the pair’s participation in the dictionary raises awareness of IU Southeast around the world, and this lends credibility to graduates. It also has a deep personal meaning for the authors.

“Everybody wants to do something that really has an impact on their profession,” said Atwater. “There is probably no single publication that has more impact on our field than the dictionary. It’s an honor to be serving in this role, to steward on behalf of APICS this publication used by people all over the world.”

The 15th edition of the APICS Dictionary will be rolled out at the organization’s annual conference, APICS 2016, which will be held in Washington, D.C. in September.

You may see Paul and Brian a bit more often after that.

Homepage photo: IU Southeast School of Business faculty Paul Pittman (l) and Brian Atwater (r).

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