As part of the MealViewer team at Heartland, I have been to many school nutrition events in over 40 states and I always enjoy them. However, the impact of this year's School Nutrition Industry Conference (SNIC) was different - TOTALLY different! When I flew home from Austin, I left with a renewed sense of purpose and ambition for what we all do each day in the school nutrition industry.
This year's keynote speaker was Daniel Burrus, a future technologist and founder of Burrus Research. His presentation left me with two major takeaways that will help shape my experiences and conversations over the coming year:
1.) Transformative technology can revolutionize child nutrition
Transformative technology is the way technology shapes and changes the world around us. And although this seems like something we can only expect in the distant future... it’s very much already here.
The opening topic of the keynote was on Emerging Technology. Which was very exciting for me because this is something that I love. He talked about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, being able to spot disruptive trends, and more.
He shared an interesting story about how IBM's artificial intelligence, named Watson, created a recipe! Watson read over 3,000 cookbooks, digested hundreds of journals on human taste and smell, and used that information to create a unique and original recipe all on it's own. And guess what? It was unanimously delicious and it took Watson one second to process all that information. Let that sink in.
So how does this apply to school nutrition? There are an endless possibilities for how AI can learn and make recommendations about district operations. AI could help us with recipe analytics, menu planning predictions, and point of sale trends - just to name a few. This type of transformative technology is already here and I think it’s only a matter of time until we see it in our cafeterias.
2.) How to take the first step in implementing change
Just as the room was abuzz with dreams of all of this new technology, Burris let the air out of the room. He said that in reality, once we all get back to our regular “day jobs” most of us struggle with implementing change in our programs, technological or otherwise.
As he said this, we all knew he had a point. Many people don’t like change and getting buy-in from staff to transform program operations can be difficult. Throughout the conference I had the opportunity to talk with many directors about the keynote. Many of whom told me they had new ideas and strategies for their program, but simply didn’t know where to start.
This conference reminded me of why I originally stepped into the world of child nutrition. School nutrition programs do so much good each day and it's great to be a part of that.
With the keynote being focused on technology and implementing change, I can't help but think of all the ways we at Heartland work to help nutrition programs tackle these challenges. We're always here to help if a program needs assistance navigating the ever-changing landscape of nutrition technology.
To see more about our SNIC experience, check out our Facebook page!