ESG Report: Why Automation and AI Are Critical for IT Ops


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Artificial Intelligence


Digital transformation efforts and distributed clouds are driving a significant amount of complexity for IT operations teams. As a result, these increasing levels of complexity will exceed human capacity to effectively manage them. Given that the top goal of digital transformation is to become more operationally efficient, organizations have to change to ensure a successful transformation. As organizations embark on digital transformation journeys, this is the time for them to embrace automation and AI technology to ensure IT can operate as efficiently as possible. The good news is the decision to adopt automation and AI is a phased approach. This enables businesses to become comfortable with the technology and fully understand and appreciate the benefits automation and AI can provide. As ESG research has demonstrated, the majority of respondents are looking to take advantage of automation and AI in some capacity

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Automation, it’s what’s for dinner: “Robot-run” restaurant opens in China


The eatery offers hundreds of menu items and delivers them in mere moments. Will this spark a trend in robotic dining experiences?


IMAGE: Country Garden Holdings

In the age of digital transformation, organizations are leveraging artificial intelligence, IoT devices, automation, and more to streamline their operations. In the 21st century, robots, a key component of automation, are no longer strictly staples of manufacturing factory floors. Today, an increasingly sophisticated fleet of automatons are a common part of our day-to-day lives. 

Robots have been tapped as robotic security guards in shopping malls and others, such as the da Vinci surgical robot, are being used to assist in the operating room. As a testament to our modern times, a recent report notes that in the not so distant future some companies will have not only human resource departments, but also robot resource departments.

Now, a company has recently opened what it says is the world’s first “robot-run” restaurant complex, but what does that look like?

Last month, Qianxi Robot Catering Group opened the robotic restaurant facility in Guangdong, China. The complex encompasses 2,000 square meters of total space and can accommodate approximately 600 patrons at a time. Those so inclined shalt not worry about limited food selections.

The restaurant’s extensive menu includes 200 items allowing diners to choose from a vast spectrum of robotically crafted culinary creations. These offerings range from standard fast-food fare to hot pot, Chinese food, and more. Within this sprawling space, more than 20 robots are stationed to cook these orders and deliver these items to patrons. The robot-chefs can create some of these menu items “in as little as 20 seconds,” per the release.

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download (TechRepublic Premium)


IMAGE: Country Garden Holdings

There are of course health and safety standards associated with dining experiences at old-fashioned human-operated restaurants, and a similar set of standards will hold true for robotic variants. On the day of the opening, China released “technical specification for robot safety certification in the food sector.”

“The Qianxi robot restaurant has innovatively achieved both software-hardware integration and man-machine cooperation. It helps to better run a smooth operation through the practical application of robots,” said Zhao Chunsheng, mechanical engineering specialist and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a press release.

“Qianxi has the most advanced technology with a vast product lineup. It fills the market gap and will have a significant impact on benchmarking in adding value to industry development as well.”


IMAGE: Country Garden Holdings

SEE: Inside UPS: The logistics company’s never-ending digital transformation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The Qianxi Group general manager explained that the company plans to construct a number of centralized kitchens this year to extend similar projects in other cities. At the same time, the company expects to mass-produce 5,000 robots annually.

Coinciding with the grand opening, Qianxi Group and Siemens also announced an agreement to “boost the digital development of the smart dining segment, including joint development of the industry’s first innovative smart dining IoT platform.”

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K-12 schools use AI and automation to customize lessons and pivot from in-person to online classes


Edtech company Edmentum has built a virtual assistant to help teachers master new education platforms quickly.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

One of the oldest online learning companies in the US is using automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to help educators and school districts keep teaching during the coronavirus epidemic. Edmentum has been building online learning programs since the 1960 when the company got its start at the University of Illinois. 

The company creates online learning classes and management platforms for K-12 schools and works with 8,000 districts in the US and the UK. Paul Johansen, Edmentum’s CTO, said that most schools are preparing for a hybrid model of education for the upcoming school year, due to  COVID-19. 

“Schools need to be able to flip the switch between in the building or out because they may move from in-school to out for unknown periods of time,” Johansen said.


Johansen said that Edmentum has seen two general approaches to managing online education for K-12 students. Some school districts are leveraging online platforms such as Google Classroom to keep teaching students during work-at-home orders due to the coronavirus. Others are taking a more comprehensive approach to online learning by using digital tools for curriculum planning and assessments.

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

Johansen added that there’s no one specific approach, and that schools are creating instruction plans that fit their own needs and resources. Most school districts in the US also have to consider access to an internet connection as many students in rural areas do not have connectivity at home.


“Some districts are moving back to paper-based work or non-tech dependent solutions to ensure equity,” he said.

Keeping up with changing state standards across the US

Subject matter experts at Edmentum track changing standards for K-12 education at the state level in the US. The Common Core was used by many states for a few years, but it has fallen out of favor  recently. Edmentum relies on automation to customize online curriculums to meet the requirements in each state. 

“There are differences across the states, but there’s a common skills framework,” Johansen said. “That’s where we build in as much automation into the process as we can.”

For example, skip counting is part of the math standard in many states, but the Indiana standard may expect elementary students to skip count by fives, while the Tennessee standard specifies skip counting by tens.

“An author on our staff creates a generic math question, and then an automation algorithm creates the variations on that question,” he said.

Edmentum’s Study Island product tracks these state-by-state standards and then creates practice problems, quizzes, and tests that can be customized for each student.

Digital curriculum planning can help teachers build and track a personalized learning plan for each student. Johansen said that test scores from standardized assessments are used to customize math lessons for kids who are working at, above, or below grade-level expectations.


“In one class, a teacher may have 10 students on track, 10 ahead, and 10 one or two grade levels behind on math skills,” he said. “We can use adaptive tech to help one student push ahead and go back to essentials with another student.”

Teachers can use these customized plans to keep the whole class on track to meet state expectations for students at that grade level.

Encouraging data standards

The key to using test scores to guide instructional plans and data sharing across systems has been a challenge until recently. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs student data and how it can be shared. The Ed-Fi Alliance is one of several advocacy groups that is working on common standards to make it easier to share testing data across schools and information systems.

Johansen said that over the last two years, edtech companies and education advocates have been focused on using artificial intelligence to analyze student data. has a list of voluntary guidelines that cover how to use this data. The Future of Privacy Forum and The Software & Information Industry Association are working on an update to the pledge, that was first developed in 2014.

Onboarding help via a virtual assistant

To help teachers learn now to onboard students and find state standards for various subjects, Edmentum is developing an artificial intelligence engine to power a virtual assistant as part of the online curriculum platform.


“Instead of a teacher having to learn the product, he or she can have a conversational chat with a virtual advisor,” Johansen said. “We have reduced the general onboarding flow from 27 minutes to just over four minutes.”

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