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The End of Pilot Purgatory

We’re excited to have Andrew Bright, former ABB executive and VIA’s advisor to our Swiss office, contribute to our blog. Read on to hear his commentary on VIA’s GDAC™ Transformers: 3-Minute Pilot, which was recently upgraded to maximize the value of transformer data while minimizing time.


Many industrial digitalization projects suffer from “Pilot Purgatory.” The pilots seemingly take forever and never end because no one can decide if they are a success or a failure. Since the term Pilot Purgatory was first coined a few years ago, much has been written about how to avoid it. However, the vast majority of this advice seems to involve throwing more resources, money and scale at the pilot, until well it no longer looks like a pilot but a full-scale roll-out. The logic is clear if the monthly cost of a pilot project is high enough – no one can afford to let the pilot continue indefinitely. How refreshing then, that VIA has come up with a radically different and frankly opposing approach for avoiding Pilot Purgatory.

Their new GDAC™ Transformers: 3-Minute Pilot takes just 3 minutes to complete once data is gathered. If this were a recipe, you would be allowed up to 27 minutes to source the ingredients and just 3 minutes to do the cooking. Resources, time and money are all minimized. After this experience, VIA hopes to have delivered a valuable summary of the health of one of your transformers. If this has proved insightful, the pilot has been a success, if not then GDAC™ may not be for you. Either way, the pilot will have been concluded.

With their 3-Minute Pilot, VIA aims to demonstrate three specific concepts:

  1. show valuable insights about the health of one transformer and that the math really works;
  2. show that valuable analysis can be conducted whilst keeping data private and confidential; and
  3. provide an educational component about how VIA does what it does. VIA does more than provide recommendations, it also explains why & how a particular recommendation was made.

All three of these components are embedded in the 3-Minute Pilot. If you are interested in performing a full fleet analysis going back say 20 years, that’s more of a project and not the goal of this pilot. VIA’s 3-Minute Pilot is true to the spirit and literal about the term “proof-of-concept.” This seems to be an industry first and given the simplicity and radical reduction in resources, I hope that it becomes an industry standard approach.

VIA note:

If you are interested in learning more about VIA’s GDAC™ Transformers: 3-Minute Pilot and perhaps want to give it a try, feel free to contact us.

VIA’s 3-Minute Pilot provides valuable insights on the health of transformers in just 3 minutes.

 

End of Year Reflection
Company

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
People

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

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.

Understanding How EV Charging Behavior Affects Distribution Networks

The International Energy Agency projects that 30% of all vehicles will be electric vehicles (EV) by 2030. This transition, at the intersection of electric power and mobility, combined with increased generation from renewable resources has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the years ahead. To make this happen, utilities who operate the distribution network need to understand how this new demand for electricity will affect smart grid assets. Our primary job at VIA is to help utilities navigate these shifts by understanding their data and fostering collaboration through our Global Data Asset Collaborative™ (GDAC™) program. As an example, VIA recently kicked off our first GDAC™ by focusing on transformers. Through this GDAC™, we are beginning to see that transformers are stressed by the switch to EVs and our focus will be on helping utilities find ways to keep these assets healthy over the coming years.

There are at least two things that make charging an EV different than, say, running a central AC unit. First, the power that needs to be delivered to an EV is around 20kW, which is four or five times the power required for a typical central AC unit, which ranges from 3-5kW. A “short-range” charge to power the EV so that its owner can commute could require around 40kWh, thus a “slow-charge” for a “short-range” car requires about two hours of charging. Powering large fleets of EVs will clearly require extending the capacity of current electricity distribution networks. 

The second issue that makes charging an EV different is timing. The timing of EV charging events changes the daily load profile of the home, workplace, and in urban centers equipped with networks of charging stations. Transformers are generally able to run past their rated capacity so long as they are given ample time to cool overnight. That is changing as commuters return home after work to charge their vehicles, never allowing transformers that time to cool down, which can cause them to malfunction and in extreme cases, explode. EV charging events, because they demand so much power so quickly from the grid, can lead to shifts in voltages along the distribution network. This leads to wear and tear on tap changers and other voltage regulation mechanisms. 

Utility asset managers need to understand which transformers in their fleet are most at risk as EV penetration increases. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University illustrates what needs to be done to understand the effects EVs have on transformers and voltage regulators (“An Integrated Algorithm for Evaluating Plug-in Electric Vehicle’s Impact of the State of Power Grid Assets”). The authors have studied a representative sample of urban, suburban, and rural areas and tried to answer the question “What would happen to the distribution grid if each home had an EV?” To understand both the total load and the rapid charging behavior, the authors used actual distribution grid topology provided by American Electric Power (AEP) and simulated the behavior of the system as EV charging events are inserted into today’s “baseline” load demand. The authors find that suburban areas are expected to see the greatest stress, as it is assumed that, in urban areas, additional power will be provisioned by specific “fast-charging” stations while the suburban dwellers load will stress the transformers that serve their primary residences. In rural areas, the lower population density typically means that the transformers are not as heavily loaded as in a suburban area. Some authors predict long-term changes in mobility patterns that will increase the number of rideshare services (i.e., Uber). Rideshare cars are typically required to drive all day and would require longer charge times. This corresponds to the most aggressive scenario studied by the authors, in which case they expect insulator degradation to occur after just one year. The results illustrate the socio-technical complexities of planning the future smart grid and the need for detailed studies on how people are expected to use their vehicles.

Author’s Note

As a highly-trained problem solver with deep scientific and computing expertise, I’m always hungry for tough problems to solve. There’s no doubt that integrating EVs into the smart grid is a tough problem. More importantly, it is a high-impact socio-technical problem that we as a society need to solve to transition to a greener future. Working together with the world’s largest utilities, VIA is in a position to help solve these problems, a privilege I am grateful for every day I go to work. At VIA, we have a company value, “Love in=Love out” which means that if you love what you are doing, you will do great work. I expect we will do great work in this area, and help our customers navigate the challenges of the EV revolution.

The 5 Game Changers that Made 2018 VIA’s Year

Trusted Analytics Chain™ (TAC™)
In 2018, VIA’s Trusted Analytics Chain™ (TAC™) moved from early development stages to first pilots and now, is ready for an official launch in Q1 2019. Along the way, we were invited to speak about TAC™ at events across three continents, including the 9th Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul, Iberdrola’s Innoday in Madrid, and Greentech Media’s Blockchain in Energy Forum in San Francisco.

We were honored to accept the MITX Best Technology Innovation Concept award, which recognized TAC™’s potential to transform the energy industry. In addition, we demonstrated TAC™’s capabilities during our first ever webinar this past fall.

CEO Colin Gounden ALC

VIA TAC MITX Award

VIA Greentech Media

 

 

 

 

 

 

Team Growth and Development
VIA nearly doubled in size this year with the addition of 10 new team members in both our Somerville and Montreal offices. And, we are actively recruiting for the following positions to be based out of the Montreal office: Front-End Developer, User Interface and Experience Designer, Software Developer, Software Engineer, and DevOps Specialist. Visit our Careers page for more information and to apply.

VIA Hiring

Press Features
VIA enjoyed a record number of press features this year, highlighting both our technology and the team behind the tech. In January, CEO Colin Gounden was interviewed for Inc. Magazine to discuss VIA’s approach to building its team.

Additional media outlets include: com! Professional Magazine, FutureTech podcast, Digitex Futures, and Clean Energy Finance Forum. For links to these features, visit our Press page.

VIA Inc. Magazine

 

 

Brand Refresh
In March, VIA debuted its new name, logo, and website, as part of a brand refresh. We also introduced “Solve with VIA” as an anchor to our brand, one developed through brainstorming with the entire VIA team and consulting with our most trusted partners. The idea that clients “Solve with VIA” was an ever-present theme through these creative sessions, and ultimately inspired VIA’s newly designed logo. The logo visually represents the journey VIA takes with its clients from identifying a problem to finding a solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Partnerships
We are so grateful to our partners that have helped support our progress and made our success possible. And, today we are proud to announce our newest partner, KWHCoin. Through our partnership, KWHCoin will use VIA’s Trusted Analytics Chain™ (TAC™) to securely and anonymously analyze consumer behavior from smart meter data in order to help its utility partners better incentivize their customers to use renewable sources and clean energy. Earlier this year, we also began working with BigchainDB, leveraging their database to make TAC™ a consortium blockchain.

We were accepted to Accelerace, one of Europe’s top-seed accelerators, as part of their Cleantech program. Accelerace will help us establish a corporate presence in Denmark, make introductions to leading European utilities, and gain mentorship from experienced Danish entrepreneurs, cleantech executives, and industry experts.

Additionally, we were accepted to NVIDIA’s Inception program, which is designed to nurture startups revolutionizing industries with advancements in AI and data science.

VIA Accelerace

VIA Spotlight: Girard Newkirk, Founder and CEO of KWHCoin

Girard Newkirk, Founder and CEO of KWHCoin, spoke with VIA about his journey from retail executive to founder of a decentralized virtual global power company. KWHCoin aims to deliver reliable, clean, renewable energy access for disadvantaged and underserved communities across the globe using blockchain technology and smart contracts.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Pender County, North Carolina and attended East Carolina University, where I studied Political Science and Finance. I have two beautiful children: a six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. My professional background is in retail, and most recently, I worked as a Vice President for Macy’s in the Silicon Valley District.

Prior to founding KWHCoin, you were a retail executive for over a decade. What inspired you to leave that industry and pursue building this platform for renewable energy resources?

I have always been interested in finance, energy, and building systems to provide access and social impact for the disadvantaged and underserved. But the real turning point for me was my daughter’s stroke. She had a stroke at birth and struggled to survive. This experience put into perspective the need to live a purposeful life. As she lay in the NICU, I promised her that I would work on something to make the world a better place for her and my son and so, here we are.

KWHCoin aims to “improve the lives of the 1.2 billion people across the globe without reliable energy access.” What are some of the key ways KWHCoin works to accomplish that mission?

As we began to travel to and interact with markets in Africa and the Caribbean, we quickly learned that the solution needed was more than just energy trading and a blockchain. We discovered we had to develop an entire ecosystem to support the needs and overcome current barriers that kept 500 million households without energy. So, we modified our original plan. Now we have become an energy solutions provider as well as a platform for sustainable infrastructure development.

You talk about the “Internet of Energy,” and how the internet can act as a digital rail to deliver clean, localized energy to members of the network. Tell us about your vision for the global impact of an Internet of Energy.

I think the energy generation and distribution systems of the very near future will be much smaller, localized, and driven by both demand response and the coordination of software for efficient delivery. We envision all distributed energy resources as being critical to grid reliance, so we decided to design our platform as a mechanism for distributed energy resources to collaborate and communicate in a transparent environment. This enables each energy resource to become its own energy company and this independence will flourish in the coming years.

VIA uses its blockchain-based Trusted Analytics Chain (TAC) to establish secure access to confidential and distributed energy data, making it available for AI initiatives like predictive maintenance. How do you see TAC, or similar applications, fitting into KWHCoin’s goal of establishing a decentralized virtual global power company?

I see TAC as being a critical component to the development of the Internet of Energy. Security and coordination are the hardest and most important elements to the success of decentralized energy development and TAC is a bridge to connect data, energy usage, mitigate security threats, and foster collaboration.

The United Nations’ scientific panel released a report in October describing a strong risk of climate crisis as early as 2040. How do you think KWHCoin’s work is helping to combat some of the contributing factors of climate change? What further action do you think needs to be taken to prevent some of the more severe consequences of climate change?

I think we immediately need to invest in sustainable infrastructure development and work together to build compensation models that will attract investment and reward the public for good behaviors that contribute to the deployment of more renewable energy sources.

We often describe blockchain now as the internet in the early 90’s: it’s difficult to imagine the impact it will have on everyday life. That being said, how do you think blockchain will influence the way we live in the next 5 – 10 years?

I think we will see an array of disintermediation. The public, if we execute distributed systems and technologies effectively, will benefit tremendously from lower cost and more security of their data.

Would you like to add anything else?

Thank you for this opportunity. We encourage everyone to check out KWHCoin and join us on our mission to electrify billions and build a more sustainable planet.

So, You’ve Updated Your Privacy Policy

If you’re like me, your inbox has been flooded since late April with emails announcing updates to privacy policies and terms of service. Consumer brands like Yelp and Etsy, social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and, it seems, everyone in between all sent emails. It’s no coincidence. The newly implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) means any company operating in the European Union (EU) needs to update its existing privacy policies to comply with this legislation. And as it turns out, that’s quite a lot of companies.

While it was specifically passed in the EU, GDPR has far-reaching implications for companies around the world. The policy addresses consumers’ growing need for transparency and privacy, which, at first glance, seem to be competing interests. But WIRED offers this helpful explanation: GDPR “gives people the right to ask companies how their personal data is collected”, stored, and being used, and to “request that personal data be deleted. It also requires that companies […] get your consent before collecting it.”

Consumers’ growing need for greater data privacy, security, and anonymity, as well as transparency from companies that collect data, extends to the energy industry. Smart meters are a great example of this: EU Member States “have committed to rolling out close to 200 million smart meters for electricity and 45 million for gas by 2020″, at which time it is “expected that almost 72% of European consumers will have a smart meter for electricity while 40% will have one for gas.”

In theory, utilities could leverage the massive volume of consumer data collected by these meters for AI initiatives that seek to improve predictive maintenance and energy efficiency. However, utilities don’t own this data, consumers do. And the EU wants to safeguard it. So, how can utilities balance consumers’ rights to data privacy, security, and anonymity, while leveraging this wealth of new information to improve service reliability and efficiency?

At VIA, we are enhancing our Trusted Analytics Chain (TAC) platform to address this challenge. TAC Permissions is a new feature that allows energy companies’ customers to determine who has access to their personal data and how it is used. Permissions are stored in TAC’s blockchain, making them immutable and auditable by consumers, corporate compliance departments, and government agencies. VIA’s solution helps to alleviate the tension between:

  • Customers’ needs to protect their data
  • Energy companies’ and algorithm providers’ needs to access data to develop and implement valuable services such as improved energy efficiency and reliability.

Smart meters are just one example of the many digitalization technologies that energy companies are using to transform their operations. The industry as a whole is more data-dependent than ever before. In parallel, consumers are more aware than ever of the consequences associated with misuse of their personal data. Legislation like GDPR requires companies to know and comply with customers’ preferences about using personal data. VIA is proud to offer TAC Permissions as a solution for ensuring that customers’ wishes are respected while AI initiatives yield new ways to improve service and efficiency.

Six Values in Six Months: A Co-op Reflects

My name is Meg Foley. I have worked as the marketing execution co-op at VIA’s Davis Square headquarters since January. And this is the story of how that became the most rewarding experience of my life (so far!).

That’s me!

In my two years at Northeastern University, I have already made major progress towards some of my life goals, like traveling the world, earning a college degree, and getting real-life work experience (and I still have three more years to go!). I studied abroad in Dublin my first semester, went to classes in Boston for the next two semesters, and worked at a startup in Davis Square for the past six months.

These experiences have all made me who I am today and my time at VIA is no exception. I gained essential professional experience, and each lesson stemmed from VIA’s company values.

Respect a good challenge and challenge with respect

We believe in facing challenges head-on with passion and excitement. We’ve created an environment where team members feel psychologically safe to raise alternative ideas and share their personal concerns, helping us reach better outcomes in the end.

The team loves to step out for ice cream on a hot day! And after a particularly warm day in February, J.P. Licks even featured one of our ice cream photos on their social media.

As the marketing execution co-op, one of my primary responsibilities was maintaining our Zoho CRM (a database that helps us manage all our relationships with our ever-expanding network). But more than just maintain this system, I made it my mission to make it even more efficient and effective. One component of that meant making data reports, like our sales pipeline, more visually appealing. To do this, I worked closely with VIA COO, Kate Ravanis, to hash out the goals and strategy for how this would work.

For me, the biggest challenge was putting my Excel knowledge to work and being patient with changing formats and preferences. Through many versions and rounds of feedback with VIA’s executive team, I eventually found a way to incorporate everyone’s input and all the essential details. Now that visual report is a part of the team’s biweekly demo, and this challenging project led to a new staple piece of internal communications!

Learning never goes out of style

Learning is all about feedback and trying new things. Each person, at every position in the company, has frequent feedback sessions with their manager to set goals and priorities, reflect on accomplishments, and discuss areas for improvement and additional support.

Somerville team at our brand launch (this was a huge deal to be a part of)

One of my friends, who is also on a co-op at another organization, was shocked to hear how often I speak with my supervisor on the marketing team. “I wish I could get any feedback at all!” he said. I was proud to have such an open line of communication, which has been so important and useful for my personal growth.

This open communication also meant I was able to speak up about projects I wanted to pursue, like becoming the VIA Culture Coordinator, and skills I wanted to develop, like written communication, so I was really able to shape my role at VIA to better fit me. With each new responsibility I took on, I created a comprehensive process guide so future co-ops can continue building on projects I started, like our new Instagram account. I hope these guides allow for many future smooth transitions from one co-op to another, and that it’s one way I can continue contributing to VIA’s learning-focused environment.

Be each other’s biggest fan

Everyone deserves a high five once in a while! The more we support each other, the more we encourage wide ranging contributions from diverse backgrounds to solve problems.

The marketing team treated me to a fun brunch on my birthday.

Every person on the team is recognized and celebrated for any number of reasons: professional accomplishments, personal victories, or even birthdays.

In fact, on my birthday I was taken to a lovely brunch by my marketing team. This is a fond memory I’ll treasure forever. Celebrating the individual, like we did on my birthday, is central to VIA’s culture. As the Culture Coordinator, I was proud to be a part of creating even more structure around what we celebrate and how, like birthdays (of course), work anniversaries, and fun holidays like Pi Day and Star Wars Day.

Ready, set, RESILIENCE!

We are solving problems that others have considered unsolvable. Difficult problems require patience and grit. Individuals require resilience to approach a major challenge and overcome all the smaller challenges along the way.

During my co-op, VIA achieved a lot of exciting milestones. One that stands out in particular was winning the MITX Best Technology Innovation Concept Award. We were thrilled to learn we were finalists, but in order to qualify for the next round of review, someone from VIA would need to present a demo of our blockchain-based Trusted Analytics Chain (TAC).

Due to the very busy travel schedules of our client and business development teams, the only person available on the night of the demo was a member of our marketing team. She needed to learn (in just one weekend) the inner workings of TAC and how to demo it, and prepare for any number of questions that might come up with the judges (I was happy to help her prepare by asking the most challenging questions I could think of, and many of those were actually asked on the night of!). Without her determination and ability to deal with high stakes situations, traits that come naturally to everyone on the VIA team, this feat couldn’t have been accomplished.

Love in = Love out

We believe that if you love what you do, it will show in the quality and productivity of your work. Twice a year we get together for a company-wide offsite where team members’ contributions are recognized and new ideas are discussed.

The team has grown from then to now, we have 20 employees as of June 2018.

We had an amazing company offsite this April. This experience was one of the times I felt most immersed in VIA’s love in=love out culture. For example, during the offsite we had an ongoing activity: a fun fact scavenger hunt. Everyone received a list of fun facts with blank spaces next to them, and our goal was to match the anonymous fun fact to the right person. You would not believe how much we committed to this scavenger hunt! I had so much fun getting to know everyone on the team through this activity, while enjoying some friendly competition (people even formed alliances to pool their answers!). It just goes to show that when people really love what they do, it shows, even in small moments of downtime during an all company meeting.

Stay curious

Technology today is moving at a super fast pace. Curious people who constantly explore new approaches and think outside the box help find the best possible solutions.

Some of the marketing team at a recruiting event at Northeastern.

AI and blockchain technology are two of the hottest buzzwords in the tech world (and beyond) right now. But, explaining what they mean exactly is not so simple. The marketing team stays curious about how we can better make writing about what we do more accessible, and our CEO Colin Gounden does a great job of sharing creative anecdotes and analogies to help us.

One example of that is his Van Halen story: the band’s 1982 world tour contract explicitly stated there shouldn’t be any brown M&Ms backstage. Colin explains how this seemingly bizarre request actually illustrates how Ethereum’s smart contracting functionality works. People’s eyes light up every time he explains this (a real A-ha! moment). Marketing was even able to use this to write one of our latest blogs: “Rock Science: How Van Halen Invented Smart Contracts”.

Goodbye and thank you!

That’s my team (on St.Patrick’s Day) rocking green.

I will miss VIA. It was an adventure, one I couldn’t have trekked without the team here in Somerville (shout out to Marketing!). It must seem cliché at this point, but there is not a single thing I would change about my co-op. Being at a company that cares about the individual as much as the company is rare, and I think the strong set of values is to thank for that.