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46 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • APRIL 2017 phone to pay — and facilitated by new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's focus on intra-organizational collaboration, he's become an advocate for innovative tech solutions. "In the past, Microsoft was very compartmentalized. You had your silo and you'd stick to it and get your things done," Freeman says. "Satya, who came on about three years ago, has changed all of that to what he calls One Microsoft. We're crossing barriers and silos that we never used to cross. The hydroponically grown plants actually have been my connec- tion to the developer world, which I've never had any clue about. I had no idea that they were working on stuff like this and didn't even pay attention to many of the tech products or development activities before. But for the plants, I worked alongside and talked face-to-face with these guys who do magic with software. We're also now using a lot of big data in new ways thanks to Power BI, which I'd never known about before. So, I'm starting to get more of an understanding of technology and a broad-spectrum feel for what Microsoft actually does and can do. Because of that, the tech piece of my job has increased." Freeman is already thinking big as to how technology might impact future dining program enhancements. The Commons, in operation for eight years now, is due for a refresh and redesign. He's thinking about adding enclosed walkways between the three buildings and lining them with hydroponic growing towers. And work is underway to begin engaging customers in the growing and harvesting of the greens through mobile apps, voice recognition and aug- mented reality technologies, with plants taking on names, personalities and even voices. Nutritional, allergen and product origin information — already available with the scan of a QR code — is being transitioned to a higher-tech system. "QR codes are already so 2014," Freeman laughs. "We're moving to beacons that will automatically provide the information on your phone. ... If you opt in through your phone, it opens up a whole other world in which you can experience our place. To me, that's the future." Another pilot program uses technology to help Freeman and Compass Group better understand how customers feel about their dining experience. Exiting guests can touch a smiling face or frowning face image on a surface tablet that sits near the entrance. But the program goes further to try to ascertain guests' feelings. "All the first step tells us is if you had a good or bad experience; it doesn't tell us how you feel," Freeman says. "So when you hit smiley face, it immediately takes you to another screen that gives you words to explain your smiley face. Then, you hit that button and it shows you how everyone else was feeling compared to how you were feeling." Freeman hopes that the technological innovations that he's implementing will help him to achieve his next big goal: turning the dining program from a cost center to a profit center. "The more I bring technology into our space, the more we're able to bring salespeople and potential cus- tomers in and show them that the software actually works," he says. In the process, he's learning more about technology than ever and is excited about the power of collaboration to solve problems and create innovative solutions. "We're on the forefront of exciting times in the world and there's so much going on with technology. It just blows my mind," Freeman says. "There's this energy around in- novation and offering our employees a great opportunity to be productive and have some great food and enjoy their experience while they're dining here at Microsoft. It's just way cool." FE&S FE&S 2017 HALL OF FAME // MARK FREEMAN Dining concept branding rivals that of best-in-class commercial operations. Commitment to authenticity shines through in the details, such as fresh ingredi- ents displayed. Photo courtesy of Dining at Microsoft