End of Year Reflection

As this year comes to a close, we are taking our readers on a journey through 2021 in this 3-part reflection series written by VIA’s co-founders. The series covers the incredible milestones VIA has achieved in laying the foundation for big things ahead in 2022 as we Scale Up!

If any of you are Ted Lasso fans, you’ll know the philosophy that he lives by, “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about being the very best versions of ourselves that we can be.” This year we definitely had our share of ups and downs. I, personally, am most proud of the positive attitude and resilience that our VIAneers demonstrated this year. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to win too!

This year VIA turned five. It seems like the perfect time to review in “ABC format” a few of our company wins. For D and E, see the blogs of VIA’s CSO, Jeremy Taylor, to learn more about the technical Distance we covered this year and COO, Kate Ravanis, to learn about Employee related milestones. 

A is for Series A. Earlier this year, VIA closed our $10M Series A equity financing round. While cash is always good, we’re privileged to have what we consider to be the premier clean energy fund in North America to lead the round. We also had one of the top 3 largest Silicon Valley-based B2B software companies in the world co-invest. We think quality begets quality. It’s an honor to have this level of support and growth capital to continue to scale VIA. You’ll see investments in our people and technology as we continue to keep up with increased customer demand.

B is for Buildings (and infrastructure). Our mission is to enable cleaner, safer, more equitable communities. Buildings and infrastructure are clearly the biggest physical components of our communities. While infrastructure was in the headlines for almost the entirety of 2021, this is a sector where VIA started to gain traction last year. In 2020, we won a significant contract to support the efficiency and improve the quality of life of a community of 800 buildings by analyzing and monitoring daily the 15,000 associated subsystems (utilities, HVAC, etc.). That expanded this year and in 2022 you’ll see a ten-fold increase in the number of buildings and other critical infrastructure that we support.

C is for Customers. VIA’s customers doubled in 2021 and we are on track to double again in 2022. For our critical infrastructure application, JARVIS™, we were able to add Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida as a customer and in December have a new multi-million dollar award that we will announce fully in January. 

It’s also the most positive endorsement of our value that two of our power customers have not only renewed their contracts but grown from an annual commitment to a three year contract. You’ll see new announcements in the first quarter of 2022 regarding our work with the U.S. Space Force. For obvious reasons, you won’t see anything about work that we won recently with a U.S. intelligence agency. Those are also both great endorsements of VIA’s value proposition: data analytics that’s cyber secure and privacy protected.

This past year was really a breakthrough year from a people, technology, and customer perspective. 2022 will be all about building on that base and continuing to scale. In the meantime, thank you all for your support in creating the solid foundation that VIA has laid. We sincerely wish all of you the very best to you and yours for 2022.


End of Year Reflection
Research and Technology

As this year comes to a close, we are taking our readers on a journey through 2021 in this three-part reflection series written by a variety of VIA’s leaders. The series covers the incredible milestones VIA has achieved in laying the foundation for big things ahead in 2022 as we Scale Up!

In 2021, VIA began to harvest some of the fruits of our research and previous development efforts of years past. We’re proud to share with you our technology accomplishments and what will make 2022 another record breaking year.

Technology Platform: Security and Agility

2021 was a year filled with major accomplishments for our technology platform.

Our VP Architecture, Jesus Cardenes, along with the entire DevSecOps team, pioneered a number of significant security enhancements to our data privacy-preserving analytics platform,  TAC™. In 2020, we released the capability to run TAC™ in a multi-cloud environment and continued to enhance these capabilities this year. In 2021, thanks to a robust container hardening pipeline, VIA celebrated having the first U.S. Department of Defense-wide cybersecurity accredited blockchain application. As part of our cybersecurity accreditation, we ensured that we migrated TAC™ to a Zero Trust Architecture and implemented Least Privilege Principle cybersecurity practices throughout our full product suite.

This year, TAC™ scaled as an application platform and currently supports multiple distinct analytics capabilities. Technical Architect, Ashley DaSilva, and her team put the TAC™ Ingestion Engine into production. This enables applications to orchestrate complex data ingestion and transformation workflows like taking thousands of files and automating their wrangling into an AI-ready database format. Early in 2021, execution auditability was demonstrated by our Technical Architect, John Muddle and his team, and was further developed by fellow Technical Architect, Madjid Aoudia, and his team demonstrating a highly scalable and auditable analytics system for satellite image data. These new features are key enablers for VIA’s full solution range, including VIA Insights Market™, GDAC™ Transformers, SWEET™, and JARVIS™.

There’s a Patent for That

In 2021, we were proud to have been granted our first patents developed by our VP Engineering, Kai Cheung, and fellow collaborators. These initial patents protect innovative technologies for homomorphic encryption and machine learning model evaluation. We also filed three new patents, ranging in scope from encrypted search, decentralized aggregation, and workflow threat mitigation. This brings VIA to a total of more than ten pending patents. We look forward to positive news on several of these filings in 2022. These technologies make TAC™ more secure, improve model execution performance, and lower power consumption. You’ll hear more about our efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of AI in 2022.

Research: Setting the Stage for Big Things

In 2020, we began work with our university research partner HSLU, smart meter manufacturer Landis+Gyr, and the Swiss Federal office of Energy. We finalized our first use cases that will help Distribution System Operators (DSOs) understand how technologies like electric vehicles, solar power generation, and battery storage are driving changes in the Swiss power system. In 2021, the team developed novel privacy-preserving algorithms to detect congestion in power systems, and completed a study of federated learning and model personalization for improved energy consumption forecasting. These technologies are being deployed at the edge, directly on smart meters and will be field tested in the first half of 2022. 

In 2022, we look forward to the start of a research collaboration with the University of British Columbia (UBC) on demand response for grid stabilization. The project will include the development and testing of blockchain-based algorithms for coordination between distributed energy resources across multiple distribution feeders. At VIA, we see this project as the start for a number of avenues of research collaboration into data-driven and privacy-preserving AI solutions for power system stabilization.

With all of our technology advancements in 2021, we were able to meet the needs of our customers, accept prestigious awards, and set the foundation to scale in 2022. The last blog in this series will highlight these major milestones we achieved as a company this year.

End of Year Reflection

As this year comes to a close, we are taking our readers on a journey through 2021 in this three-part reflection series written by a variety of VIA’s leaders. The series covers the incredible milestones VIA has achieved in laying the foundation for big things ahead in 2022 as we Scale Up!

2021 was a big year for us at VIA, so big, we needed three blogs to cover all of our milestones! This first part highlights our team, the VIAneers.

All About That Base

To keep up with our customer growth, we had our biggest year ever for new hires: 16! Our new VIAneers tell us that the onboarding experience when they join VIA is incredibly supportive, inclusive, and engaging – even when remote! In no small part, this is due to the continuous improvements we have been making over the past five years. 

From our founding, our core values have been reinforced day-to-day through a cohesive program of supporting processes. These ranged from six monthly offsites, formal mentorship programs, awards and incentives, learning and development, and structured feedback. With a hugely diverse team (e.g., we have 17 nationalities across 39 people around the world) we believe that systematic reinforcement of values has created the base necessary for a scalable organization. 

Our VP, People and Operations, Emma Fechney, deserves a huge shout out for instantiating our commitment to values into a successful system over the past several years. Emma took our theory of the case about the importance of mission, values, and diversity and built a program that we scaled and has an impact every day. In 2021, we branded this program the “VIAneers’ Experience Program.”

Great Support for Great People

A big milestone for VIA in 2021 was raising our Series A. We were genuinely surprised, in the best possible way, to hear from several investors during the diligence process that our “people processes” are on par with IPO-ing companies. 

Unsurprisingly, the first investment we made was in people, in particular, the kind who take care of others. Emma’s People and Operations team grew to include Felice Sicoli, our talent acquisition extraordinaire. Felice has helped shape our candidate experience and ultimately led us to our biggest recruitment year. Angelica Novoa, also joined this year as People and Operations Partner. Angelica joined us through a recommendation of a current VIAneer, Jonathan Chirwa. Referrals of friends are the best possible validation of our company culture and experience – and Angelica has proven this with her thoughtful contributions from day one! Both Felice and Angelica have been instrumental in enhancing and systematizing our onboarding experience.

Welcoming Felice and Angelica has yielded 16 new people to accept offers with us in 2021 while maintaining consistency in quality. Fewer than 1% of applicants ever get an offer at VIA. As one of our technical VIAneers, Antoine Dozois, says when he assesses candidates, “It’s not enough for candidates to be ‘good.’ They have to be ‘VIA Good.’”

A highlight of 2021, was our first hybrid (virtual and in person) company event, called Power Up Week. While we have a long history of assembling our company together weekly through “All Hands” video conferences and bi-annual offsites, this year we extended the invitation to our advisors, Lt. Gen. Spigelmire, Maj. Gen. Nesbitt, and Brig. Gen. Blackstock, as well as prospective advisors. We believe they are an extension of our team and need to be aligned on values and mission as much as our full time VIAneers.

Want a sneak peak at Power Up week? Watch our Day 1 Kick-off video where we cover VIA’s mission.

Hey, 2022!

2022 will be a great year for VIAneers. To keep up with exponential customer growth, we already have three new hires starting in January on our technical team and have aggressive hiring plans across our offices globally.

We feel confident that we have the foundation in place for our next few hundred hires. Some of our processes date back to previous successful companies and are proven in diverse and challenging environments. 

Always staying agile, we look forward to the ways our new growth and team members will continue to spark our creative expansion of our VIAneers program. It is the part of the job our People and Operations team loves the most – and we see it pay off in the many successful commercial and technology milestones we achieved this year. We look forward to sharing more about them next! #lovein=loveout

Meet the Team: Felice Sicoli, Talent Acquisition Manager

Through a Q&A-style interview, you will hear from VIA team members about things like a typical day at the office and favorite foods.

What does a typical day at VIA look like for you?

In Talent Acquisition, each day tends to be quite unique. I have the pleasure of speaking with new applicants, learning about their career ambitions, and showcasing what VIA has to offer as a “top employer”. To me, this means a company that cares about its employees mental health and wellbeing, professional development, and is committed to diversity, equality, and inclusion. Additionally, I get to collaborate with colleagues from different areas of the company on projects and process improvements to ensure that we provide the best candidate experience and hire a diverse and qualified workforce. 

How has the adoption of a hybrid work set up been for you?

I started my career at VIA fully remote, in a role that requires a lot of interaction with various stakeholders. Luckily, the entire onboarding experience was thoughtfully put together and I was able to quickly ramp up on procedures and tools. The opportunities I have had to meet colleagues in person, at the office, or at team events, have been outstanding! They were well organized, ensuring we had lots of fun while staying safe!

What’s something you have worked on at VIA that you are most proud of?

In my short time at VIA, I’ve had the opportunity to provide and execute on multiple process improvements. One in particular that stands out to me was related to the technical take home assignment process – it was a bit elaborate and time consuming for candidates and employees alike. I proposed that we centralize the process by adopting a software as a service that would streamline the candidate experience and automate the reviewing and scoring of assignments. In collaboration with the team, we identified and tested several platform vendors, and are in the process of fully integrating an automated code assessment tool at VIA.

What’s your favorite VIA memory?

My favorite memory is our summer picnic in Montreal. It was the first opportunity I had to meet several team members in person and connect over good food, drinks, and games – it was a fantastic afternoon!  

If you were given an extra hour in your day, what would you spend it doing?

Enjoying the outdoors and improving my golf game! 

What is your go-to food?

That’s a hard one as I love so many foods from various parts of the world. To name a few: sushi, bún bò huế, and authentic Italian pasta!

What’s something everyone may not, but should, know about working at VIA?

At VIA, we live and breathe our core values. Yes, you will find them on our walls and website, but we also believe in the importance of referring to them and providing feedback about how people demonstrate them in their everyday work.

What’s one fun fact that you have learned about the clean energy industry that you didn’t know before joining VIA?

A one hour power outage could cost some companies over a million dollars. 

If you could pick one word to describe the VIA team, what would it be?


Meet the Team: Becky McClements, Market Strategy Specialist

Through a Q&A-style interview, you will hear from VIA team members about things like a typical day at the office and favorite foods.

What does a typical day at VIA look like for you?

Part of what I love about working at VIA is that there is no such thing as a “typical day”. I feel like that is incredibly cliche to say, but it is the truth! I get to touch so many different parts of our business and am constantly being exposed to new ideas and topics. Each day and each project is slightly different. 

Broadly, a typical day at VIA for me involves coordinating upcoming projects and proposals that need input for that day, and then executing that input, whether pulling together research or market sizing numbers, or writing sales and program proposal content. 

How has the transition back to the office been for you

I really thrive working in a group setting, so I am super excited to be working in person alongside teammates again. Each day I look forward to problem solving with VIA team members, who are just as engaged with and committed to VIA’s mission of making clean energy a “no trade-off” solution as I am.

What’s something you have worked on at VIA that you are most proud of?

In my short time at VIA, I’ve had the opportunity to support several proposals, including some that were fairly involved. In my first few months, we applied for some funding in the EU. I was very proud of the work and learning I did on that project. It was a pretty steep learning curve, but I ultimately felt like I gained a much more developed understanding of VIA’s products and put together a compelling proposal.

What’s your favorite VIA memory?

My welcome lunch when I first joined! I didn’t expect to meet the majority of the company on the first day and was also very nervous about how onboarding remotely would feel. I was impressed that so many people took time out of their days to introduce themselves, especially over video chat. I quickly realized the friendly and warm atmosphere of that call is pretty standard at VIA.

If you were given an extra hour in your day, what would you spend it doing?

Sitting outside, reading a book, and drinking some coffee.

What is your go-to food?

I really love a well-made sandwich with really fresh ingredients.

What’s something everyone may not, but should, know about working at VIA?

The VIA team’s GIF game is so strong! It adds so much brevity and humor to our Slack channels. 

What’s one fun fact that you have learned about the clean energy industry that you didn’t know before joining VIA?

I recently learned that small scale, personal wind turbines designed to power individual homes are starting to gain traction in Denmark. 

If you could pick one word to describe the VIA team, what would it be?


Meet the Team: Jonathan Chirwa, Software Developer

VIA’s Meet the Team blog series features Q&A-style interviews with our team members to learn what a typical work day looks like for each individual and some fun facts like their favorite foods.

What does a typical day at VIA look like for you?

My day always begins with a warm cup of coffee and sending a “good morning” message on Slack signaling my availability for the day. Then, I review yesterday’s work to help prioritize tasks for the day and I also attend two daily standup meetings with the team. After standup, I get to work! A typical day ranges in terms of tasks, from lone/pair programming, preparing a presentation/demo, or researching a technology to use in a feature, like OAuth2 framework to improve the security of our user management system in authorizing and authenticating users.

What project have you worked on at VIA that you are most proud of?

The first project I worked on at VIA was a logging project that improves program observability and helps developers easily debug. I’m proud to say that after completion of the project, other teams at VIA have been using it as part of their daily routine. I love that I was able to contribute to the whole team’s productivity early on at VIA.

What’s something everyone may not (but should!) know about working at VIA?

Since our work life has been remote in the last year, companies have been finding ways to motivate teams and keep company culture at the same, if not higher, level. I think our team has come up with a creative idea: VIA awards teammates with VIA-bucks (points) when something happens that is unique to working remotely like forgetting to unmute yourself or having your pet interrupt a video call. This has really eased the transition to online meetings. Pretty cool right? 🙂

What’s your favorite VIA memory?

My favorite memories at VIA are almost always from our team events. For example, our team played a game called “ling your language” where we listened to short clips of people speaking in different languages across the world and had to identify the language from a given set of options. During the game, I left it to my fellow team members who are from or have lived in parts of the world like the Middle East, Europe, Asia, North or South America, to identify the language in the clip. Vice versa, I would help more in identifying African languages.

Apart from earning some VIA-bucks (which we will redeem for a group event once we are back in person together), it reminded me of how diverse the VIA team is and how we work best when we are collaborating.

What makes VIA’s technology unique compared to others?

The idea of sharing code instead of data to compute some analytics is something I have never heard of, until I learned of VIA. In this world where data is gold but there are a lot of valid privacy and security concerns, our TAC™ technology is a game changing solution.

If you were given an extra hour in your day, what would you spend it doing?

Great question! If I were to live in a 25 hours/day Earth 2.0 world, I would spend that extra hour reading a good book. This may be spiritual, philosophical, historical or a how-to like Atomic Habits, which teaches useful techniques to develop new “good” habits and stop potentially “bad” habits.

What’s one fun fact that you have learned about clean energy that you didn’t know before joining VIA?

During my first week at VIA, I had several onboarding meetings with teammates ranging from discussions about social media to our tech stack. In one particular meeting, we covered the energy landscape. I was surprised and excited to learn that 2020 was the first year that clean energy was cheaper to produce than non-renewable/fossil energy.

We have to ask, what is your go-to food?

My go-to food is a beef burger. I haven’t mastered a homemade one yet, maybe because I tasted Montreal’s “Burger Royal” which set the bar too high.

End of Year Reflection

Over the last six months, VIA has shared 24 posts about our technology and partnerships. For our last post of 2020, we wanted to share a more personal note with our readers.

Looking back at our 2019 wrap-up blog, we had big ideas for 2020. Little did we know what that might entail.

Like every individual and company around the world, the pandemic re-routed us multiple times. However, we can’t help but be grateful for how our colleagues have responded, adapted, and accomplished in a year that was full of unforeseen speed bumps. Below are the ways our team found its way during 2020.

Transition to remote

Unbeknownst to us, Pi Day (3/14) would be the last day that we were all together in our offices.

Just as quickly as we demolished our pies, our team was up and running, fully remote. With some tweaks to home working spaces and more frequent touch points (like more one-to-one meetings and daily Scrum of Scrums), the team found its new groove. Having already worked across Montreal and Somerville for three years, the team remained productive while working from home.

Team growth and engagement

From a hiring standpoint, VIA just kept on growing! 

Our technology headquarters moved from Griffintown to Downtown Montreal. We can’t wait to be all together in the new space and host some exciting events for the local McGill and greater Montreal tech communities.

Our office move was motivated by our growth, since June we brought nine new team members on board and quickly refined the art of fully virtual recruitment and onboarding. We may not know the “in real life” height of our newest colleagues, but thanks to well-organised planning, frequent virtual check-ins, and the tremendous patience and generosity of our onboarding advisors and mentors, each one has been integrated to our team with overwhelming success. 

Always putting our people first

As a family-friendly company and one where “being each other’s biggest fan” is a core value, we doubled down on our efforts to consider the needs and wellbeing of our team. Sometimes, that meant cameos from children in meetings or adjusted schedules. For others, it was an encouraging reminder to keep going during one of our virtual workout sessions.

Above all, we maintained that there is no one way for people to respond in a year such as this. Whether team members needed to disconnect from the virtual world after work hours or join virtual “pub club”, paint night, or our first globally coordinated VIA Thanksgiving, either was equally fine.

Initiatives 2.0

With our expanding, distributed team, and a new style of working, it was important that VIA remained responsive to the rapidly changing environment. We introduced several wellness initiatives and upped our dosage of flexibility and compassion. From things like virtual yoga or frequent surveys to check-in, we always had our team’s wellbeing in mind.

As COVID-19 re-surged in the fall, we introduced the “VIA Vault” where team members earned points for things like technology fails (e.g., frozen video conference screens) or unexpected doorbells or pets joining meetings. The points will go towards a company-wide event, activity, or whatever it might be when we are all back together.

Lastly, this year was the first time in our company’s history that we did not have an in-person company offsite. That didn’t stop us, however, from having a multi-week mini-series to reflect on the year and unite and excite the team around VIA’s clean energy mission. 

We feel incredibly grateful for the resiliency and flexibility our team has shown during this challenging year. We thank them and we extend our thank you to our customers and investors for their continued support as well. We hope that no matter where you will be working from in 2021, you will have a happy, prosperous, and most of all “return to normal” 2021.

Let’s TAC™ About It: The Value of TAC™

For the twelfth installment of our blog series, we will cover how utilities quantify the value of using TAC™. So, are you ready to TAC™ about it?

In our last Let’s TAC™ About It post, we provided a few examples of customer use cases for TAC™.

A follow on question that we often get is, “how do you quantify the value of TAC™ in those use cases?” 

There are multiple ways to approach this, however the most common method is to compare what TAC™ is doing with “the next best alternative.” For most customers, that would be custom building your own data privacy and analysis platform or integrating multiple packages from multiple vendors.

One of VIA’s largest customers considered doing just this. They had evaluated more than 20 vendors and IT integration firms for their needs before we met them. This customer articulated these three big benefits when choosing TAC™ over their next best alternative:

  1. Speed: Because TAC™ has a wide array of built-in features, they could count on being up and running much faster than custom applications. In this instance, other vendors estimated as much as a two year timeframe to build and test an IT platform for their needs. VIA was able to do this in less than four months from the time our contract was signed with them. Even better, within three weeks of using the new platform, they were able to make significant decisions including upgrading $10 million in equipment and planning an equipment replacement, which they estimate will save them $1.2 million per year.
  2. Risk reduction: Custom IT solutions and integration are infamous for delays, budget overruns, and not meeting specifications. Since TAC™ has already been tested and deployment is automated, timelines for future deployment are highly reliable. Prospective TAC™ customers can also see and test features in advance to help make configuration decisions.
  3. Support: Because other customers are already using TAC™, VIA has a strong customer support team and process in place. In addition, upgrades and enhancements are rolled out roughly every month. These upgrades are for all users regardless of their implementation.

Interested in learning more? Write to info@solvewithvia.com for more details on the value of TAC™ for our customers.

Let’s TAC™ About It: TAC™: So, what’s it good for?

For the eleventh installment of our blog series, we will cover how utilities are using TAC™ and all of its new features. So, are you ready to TAC™ about it?

Careful readers of our Let’s TAC™ About It blog series will note that VIA has announced nine new features in the past 14 weeks. 

A valid question is what are utilities doing with all of these features?

For starters, utilities are increasing clean energy adoption.

The transition to reliable clean energy requires utilities to share more data with third parties such as other utilities, distributed energy resource providers, and electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure companies.

Many utilities, however, have yet to find efficient processes to make this data sharing possible. Utilities complain that current processes are often slow and manual or outright deny third parties access to data.

TAC™ features such as k-anonymity enable utilities to meet regulator data privacy and security requirements and also efficiently work with:

  • battery storage providers
  • distributed energy resource companies
  • EV infrastructure providers 
  • microgrid developers

The result is faster and better asset planning and increased readiness for clean energy technologies. In fact, some of VIA’s customers are reporting that their time saved ranges from one person-month to a year faster.

Interested in learning more? Write to info@solvewithvia.com for a more detailed case study regarding the benefits and use cases of TAC™.

TAC™ White Paper Release: Balancing Data Owner Protection and Analyst Flexibility

This year, we have published 10 blog posts about TAC™’s data privacy and security features. These are high level overviews of updates and enhancements that we have been rolling out as a result of customer feedback. 

Some of our more technical customers, however, have requested more detail. We’re pleased to release a new 10-page white paper that provides a more comprehensive overview and code examples of TAC™’s current data privacy and security features. The focus of this paper is how we balance data privacy while also providing analysts access and flexibility in their queries.

You can request your copy by sending us an email at info@solvewithvia.com.

Our original 2018 white paper with a general overview of TAC™ and its architecture is also available on request.

Preview of VIA’s recently released white paper, “TAC™: Balancing Data Protection and Query Flexibility”.

Reversing the Curse: The 80 / 20 Split In AI Projects

The USAF (a current VIA customer), as referenced in this 2020 congressional report, has prioritized funds to automate analyst workflows to, “directly tackle the challenge of analysts spending 80% of their time searching for data and 20% making sense of the data.” 

Interviews with analysts and our earliest experiences working with customers’ data has confirmed this 80/20 split. We even created a chart in our earliest VIA introductory materials:

To address this common challenge, VIA has been investing heavily in using our own AI and software development skills to reverse this ratio. We may never eliminate data gathering and cleaning tasks, but we can strive to reduce this to 20% of a project and thereby boost the productivity of data scientists. SWEET is the most recent example of how our TAC™ platform accomplishes this. 

We’re keen to hear from you about whether the 80/20 split is still the norm or if you are seeing it decrease (or *gasp* increase). Suggestions on tools or solutions that you would like to see are genuinely welcome.

Let’s TAC™ About It: Verified Templates: Balancing Security and Flexibility

For the tenth installment of our blog series, we will cover how TAC™ contracts can control what kinds of queries an analyst can ask. So, are you ready to TAC™ about it?

In our last Let’s TAC™ About It blog post, we gave a brief overview of how smart contracts work in TAC™. In addition to timing and user role, TAC™ contracts can also control what kinds of queries an authorized analyst can ask of the data. Arguably, this is the most unique and valuable feature in TAC™. 

We have three methods. On one extreme, TAC™ can do this through Verified Scripts. This provides strong data control but limited analyst flexibility. Any analysis code is reviewed and pre-approved. The limitation is that this requires a manual review and approval process for each script. This is most useful for common and frequently performed analysis. VIA provides a number of Verified Scripts (e.g., descriptive statistics like max, min, etc.) by default.

On the other extreme, we have Free Form Python (FFPy). In this scenario, anything an analyst can ask in Python code (including “send me all the data” kind of queries) is permitted. This is terrific for analyst flexibility but has limited data protection for Data Owners (DOs). Internal power users are the main audience for this method.

What if you need something in-between? This is the most common scenario and hardest to solve for. 

Here, TAC™ uses Verified Templates (VTs). DOs use VTs to set boundaries about what analysts can and cannot do. Within those boundaries, analysts have great flexibility. In short, each VT has two parts. The “end of a Python module” is written or agreed to by the DO and sets the boundaries. It is immutable. The second part, the header of the module, is filled in by the analyst. The VT can even include variables that are not defined. These provide entry points that must be fully defined to control the workflow before running. Any file where the end of the Python module matches the VT exactly (other than newlines and comments), constitutes a validated instance of the template. 

This is an example VT:

def main(db, tables, results_path):
   return []

The variable hello_world is highlighted because it is not defined by the template, thus providing flexibility to an analyst.

Then, the following query is a valid instance of the template:

hello_world='Welcome to TAC!'
def main(db, tables, results_path):
   return []

and the following query is an invalid instance of the template:

def main(db, tables, results_path):
   print('Welcome to TAC!')
   return []

As this example shows, the VT must include the main function. Once an analyst changes the body of the main function or any other functions defined in the template, their query will be rejected by TAC™ and not sent to a DO’s data to run.

Sophisticated DOs can create an infinite number of VTs to suit their specific needs. VIA also has predefined VTs for specific use cases such as 15/15 for utility meter data analysis.

A hash of the DOs VT is stored in the smart contract and must be verified to execute. The VTs themselves can be stored on or off the blockchain. A combination of off-chain VT storage and on-chain hash is a common practice for privacy reasons. 

Customers have been testing VTs on TAC™ for the past few months and we have been very pleased with the results so far. Balancing security and flexibility is a hard but universal challenge. We’re excited to have found a relatively high performance solution for the utility industry.

Let’s TAC™ About It: What’s a Smart Contract?

For the ninth installment of our blog series, we will cover how TAC™ uses smart contracts to govern data and analysis workflows. So, are you ready to TAC™ about it?

You may recall from previous posts that TAC™ uses smart contracts as the key control mechanism to govern data and analysis workflows. We have spoken before about the origins and need for smart contracts, in our blog post, Rock Science: How Van Halen Invented Smart Contracts

But, how exactly do we implement these controls?

To recap, a smart contract is a set of software-enforced rules agreed by two or more parties:

  • Rules are enforced through code (e.g., IF x happens, THEN allow (or don’t allow) y)
  • Parties agree to contract terms using digital signatures

Smart contracts are stored on a blockchain, an auditable and immutable ledger. The rules in the contract set specific restrictions around how data can be accessed.

In addition to a contract name and description (e.g., AI goal), there are five required terms for each TAC™ smart contract.

In a TAC™ release earlier this year, VIA also implemented a sub-contracting function. Sometimes customers need to change or update the terms of the contract. By definition, information stored on a blockchain is “immutable” so we technically can’t make a change to an original contract. To accommodate updates, we do allow sub-contracts that are linked to each other in a parent-child relationship and act as a kind of version control. 

One of the most important and unique terms of a TAC™ smart contract is the disclosure restriction. We will discuss this in more detail in our next blog post.

Meet the Team: Natalie Winger, Data Specialist

Through a Q&A-style interview, you will hear from VIA team members about things like a typical day at the office and favorite foods.

You are one of the first team members to join entirely remote during COVID-19. Can you tell us what that process was like?

It was of course a bit nerve-wracking and different than any other onboarding I’ve done before, but VIA was very organized about the entire process. My first 1-2 weeks were completely planned out with “Get to Know VIA” sessions, technical onboarding, first day lunch, and other events. I was pleasantly surprised that I never felt lost or didn’t know what I was supposed to do next or who to turn to for help. It has also been really nice to have many video calls because it has made it so much easier to get to know everyone when you can see their faces!

Have there been any funny “remote team” moments that stand out to you since joining the team?

My favorite was on my first day when Colin’s cat was climbing up the blinds behind him and playing. Colin just paused and asked “can you see my cat right now…?” and then laughed a little while proceeding to peel the cat off the curtains. It was a good moment to break from the more formal presentation and remember that everyone exists beyond the screen – and a lot of us have pets or family members or outside noises that we can’t control but are still a fun part of our lives.

What does a typical day at VIA look like for you?

So far I have had such a variety of days that it’s hard to answer this question! Before standup, I usually check my Slack and continue/follow up on any work from the previous day. Then, the rest of the day I could spend cleaning and wrangling new data, prioritizing the next steps for the future of GDAC™ data, or summarizing and verifying partner data. 

I look forward to Demo days most because we get to see in detail what everyone else has been working on and it’s always impressive to see how all the details I’ve heard about in the days and weeks before all come together. I also look forward to All Hands meetings because it’s a chance to learn more about the vision for VIA, any new initiatives, and even company-wide training. Finally, on Fridays I often attend (virtual) Pub Club which has been an especially useful resource for me. Since I did remote onboarding, it’s been nice to get to know other people who I haven’t had a chance to work with yet or learn more about the people I see every day, but don’t get a chance to chat with.

What motivates you to come to the office (or work remotely) each day?

I love seeing the rest of the GDAC™ team in stand-up every morning and starting out the day with a quick chat or some stories between us! Beyond seeing other friendly faces at VIA, just thinking about the amount of transformer data that is available to us and the possible insights we can get from it is very motivating – you never know what you’ll find! I especially like that even people who are on other epics or who have worked in the GDAC™ epic in the past are still so interested in what new updates we’re making and are very supportive and invested in helping to make our team a success.

What’s something you have worked on at VIA that you are most proud of?

I am most proud of the first time I took the lead on bringing data from raw files to ready-to-use on the GDAC™ portal. Through many iterations of cleaning and wrangling, I gained an appreciation of all the steps that go into helping the partners gain value from their data. I also had many opportunities to discuss future ideas for wrangling, predictions, and process improvements, which was motivating to see the possibilities for the future of my work and of GDAC™.

If you were given an extra hour in your day, what would you spend it doing?

Hopefully exercising – I like to bike or walk around new areas of Montreal, or swim in the outdoor pool in the summer – but I also might spend more time on making a nice dinner or reading my book.

What is your go-to food?

Cucumbers and hummus is my #1 default snack.

What’s something everyone may not, but should, know about working at VIA?

I am continuously impressed by the speed at which changes are made at VIA. Challenging and important questions (from process changes to technical issues) are constantly being asked, and I find that multiple people often immediately chip in to help solve them. VIA is definitely a place where questions are highly encouraged, and the whole company is willing to jump in to help give you the tools and support you need to put your ideas into action right away.

Let’s TAC™ About It: 15/15

For the eighth installment of our blog series, we will cover TAC™’s ability to meet the 15/15 rule. So, are you ready to TAC™ about it?

Utilities have a core mission to provide reliable power at fair rates to their customers.

A recent article in Energy News Network discussed the use of AI algorithms on utility meter data to rate fairness, particularly for low and moderate income customers.

David Kolata, Executive Director of the Illinois Citizens Utility Board commented after the analysis that “Potentially, lower-income consumers are subsidizing higher-income consumers.” Clustering of actual load curves showed that ”Because these [low income] customers use less electricity and contribute less to the grid’s peak load than others, and because peak load drives overall system costs higher, low-income customers could be paying more than their fair share for electricity.”

Given the seriousness of the issue, why haven’t more utilities performed similar analysis? 

The article continues to explain that data privacy and data confidentiality are the major barriers to this kind of analysis. In this specific instance, the Illinois Commerce Commission enacted the “15 by 15” privacy rule to help enable these findings.

As we wrote about in the fifth installment of our Let’s TAC About It series, 15/15 is a specific example of the k-anonymity privacy-preserving analytics feature that VIA recently released. For utilities interested in replicating the Illinois analytics example, VIA’s TAC™ platform automates the process of privacy-preserving analytics and provides an audited record for regulator review.

Meter data has been used for clean energy analytics and load curve predictions for some time. We’re excited to see privacy-protected AI analysis enabling new kinds of analysis, in particular, equity for low and moderate income communities.