Data Management

Valor Water Analytics Acquired by Water Giant Xylem

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We are excited to announce that Valor Water Analytics (Valor) was recently acquired by industry leader Xylem Inc (NYSE: XYL). Xylem is a $13B water technology company that services utility and commercial clients across 150 countries.

Dr. Christine Boyle founded Valor in 2013 with a mission to bring big data solutions to water utilities in order to improve their financial and water resource sustainability. To accomplish this, Valor created a suite of world-class software products. Valor’s products are now deployed in ten states across the USA, including notable utilities such as American Water and Suez. Its “Hidden Revenue Locator” product is widely recognized as a best-in-class technology for automated loss detection. The company remains committed to integrating its technology with all meters across the US and beyond. Valor will now execute on this ambitious vision under the Xylem umbrella.

The alignment of Valor and Xylem in product and vision made this acquisition the right strategy for Valor’s next stage of growth. Under Xylem, Team Valor continues and will spearhead Xylem’s Silicon Valley branch and lead Xylem’s advanced data science initiatives. Valor’s product lines will join Xylem’s existing suite of advanced analytics products. This exit demonstrates the value of building an innovative water technology that brings measurable value to the water sector.

Valor had previously raised $2.8M from investors such as the Urban Innovation Fund, Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Apsara, Hydro Venture Partners, Shore Ventures, Syzygy, and Matadero Ventures. These investors supported this exit and are excited for the next chapter of Valor.

Valor is looking forward to solving the world’s water issues as part of Xylem’s world-class team of dedicated water professionals.

Why Eliminating Ambiguity in Your Data Matters

By David Wegman, CTO @ Valor

The next time you strike up a conversation with your friendly neighborhood computer, take note of how long it takes before you get frustrated.  Despite the advances in artificial intelligence over the past decades -- and despite the incredible capacity humans have for adaptation -- human-computer interaction is unnatural (from the human perspective, anyway).  Every touch point where people provide input to computers, or receive output from computers, is an opportunity for misunderstanding.

 

Even as our systems are getting smarter all the time, there are some simple steps we can take to eliminate ambiguity.  Data architects serve an important role, helping to ensure that information is not lost or garbled in translation.  These techniques are essentially an investment.  Every minute spent on avoiding problems up front can save much more time down the road when things aren't working properly.

 

Date formats

 

Which came first, 3/7/2017 or 5/4/2017?  The answer depends on where you are in the world when asking the question.  In the United States, dates are commonly represented as month/day/year, so these dates would usually be interpreted as March 7 and May 4, respectively.  In many other countries, dates are represented as day/month/year, so they would be interpreted as July 3 and April 5, respectively.

 

This becomes problematic when a data file, which includes date information, is read by a computer system.  Each time the system encounters a field known to be a date, it must decide how to interpret the information.  Fortunately, most modern systems allow us to choose the format of the date for inputting and outputting dates.  However, if the date format is not chosen carefully, it can result in one of the most pernicious types of errors in computer systems: one which does not raise a flag immediately and lays dormant for some time.  A date which is incorrectly interpreted can result in a myriad of problems, as was widely publicized at the end of the last century.

 

Given enough data points, it may eventually become clear whether dates have been written starting with the month or day (e.g. if one of the values is 3/15/2017, the format cannot be day/month/year because 15 cannot refer to the month, so the format is probably month/day/year).  This approach is suboptimal because it requires an additional step which is not guaranteed to work properly in all cases.  A better approach is to avoid the problem altogether by taking care when choosing a date format.

 

To eliminate ambiguity when working with dates, when possible, use the format YYYY/MM/DD.  This represents a four-digit year, followed by a two-digit month, followed by a two-digit day.  March 7, 2017 would be represented as 2017/03/07.  This format is widely understood and eliminates the ambiguity that can occur when the year appears at the end.

 

Field delimiters

 

A common method for storing tabular data is in CSV (comma-separated values) format.  In a CSV file, each line contains one row of a table.  Within each line, a delimiter character appears in between each value, demarcating the columns.  The delimiter character is usually a comma or a tab.

 

A problem can arise when one of the values that needs to be stored contains the delimiter character.  For example, a person's name may contain a comma (e.g. "Martin Luther King, Jr.").  In this situation, a line containing this value will contain an extra delimiter character.  Software which treats each occurrence of the delimiter as a new column may be confused by the fact that the number of columns is inconsistent from one line to another.

 

One strategy is to choose a delimiter character which does not appear in any of the values.  This technique can help minimize problems, however it is not guaranteed to completely avoid them as new data files are created in the future.  A better approach is to wrap values that may contain delimiter characters in double quotes, and to ensure that literal double quote characters are specifically labeled (or "escaped," in programmer speak) using a backslash character.  This ensures that the data file will be parseable regardless of the data that needs to be stored.

 

 

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Units of measure

 

Sally's water meter recorded 350 gallons of water used.  John's recorded 200 cubic feet of water used.  Who used more water?  This is a question with a simple answer (John did).  But what if the units were not specified?  If all we know is that Sally used 350 and John used 200, we might decide that Sally used more, but only if we first assume that their meters record water using the same units.  Even if that assumption is correct, if we don't know the units, we won't be able to bill properly for the water or compare the quantity to an amount stored in other systems.

 

Quantitative values (i.e., measurements) should always have units specified.  When preparing a data file, you can provide information about units as a separate field.  For example:

 

Alternatively, units can be provided in documentation which accompanies the data.  One advantage of including units information inline in the data is that anyone with the data will automatically have units information, even if the documentation is not accessible.  Another benefit is that the units can vary from one record to another, as in the earlier example of two different people whose water meters recorded in different units.  However, in some cases it may not be practical to provide units inline, and good documentation can help fill this gap.

 

Keep clear and carry on

 

Data parsing errors are not unusual.  However, with a small investment they can be minimized.  By avoiding common data pitfalls and making the right choices at the outset, you will eliminate unnecessary troubleshooting and set yourself up for success.

How Dashboards Helps Decision-Makers at Water Utilities

How Dashboards Helps Decision-Makers at Water Utilities

By Renee Jutras, Full Stack Developer

Data has become part of the way we tell stories today. Online articles use maps and graphs to add a splash to their stories because, as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. And it’s true - a well thought out data visualization can convey much more information than just a description, and let the viewer draw their own conclusions about the information. The difference between a clear positive trend and a potentially coincidental trend is instantly recognizable on a graph.
Dashboards take graphs even further by adding organization and interactivity. The best dashboard helps you continuously monitor whatever your pain points are while giving you the power to explore your data visually as freely as possible.

In order to take water utilities further into the future, better technology is needed. Valor Water Analytics’ dashboards put vital information at the fingertips of the decision-makers at utilities, so that they can start to make actionable decisions based on their data.

Broken Meter Beater

Broken Meter Beater

By Steve Birndorf

So, I’ve been thinking about broken meters quite a bit lately (and, when I say “broken meter,” I’m referring to all sorts of different issues--under-registration, non-registration, decay, stuck meters, zero reads, etc.). Every day, as I talk to municipalities and water agencies around California and around the country, broken meters are a topic of universal importance and concern. Everyone’s got ‘em, and everyone is trying to get rid of ‘em. And, broken meters don’t just go away when you fix them...they are a recurring problem which occur year after year after year...

 

Broken meters, significantly impact water utilities. They leave revenue uncollected, they impact revenue stability, they make compliance difficult, they result in truck rolls, they impact conservation efforts. The list goes on.

Zero visibility: Issues in Water Use Data Resolution

BY DAVID WEGMAN, CTO, VALOR WATER

In the beginning -- that is, before HD television -- there was standard definition television.  Back then, nobody complained much about the quality of the image.  In reality, the reason why people didn't make a fuss was that they didn't know what they were missing out on.  The same goes for the transition from cassette tapes to CDs and a host of other evolutionary enhancements in audio/visual quality over the years.  Ignorance is bliss.

Utility Data Management BMPs v1.0

Utility Data Management BMPs v1.0

Here in California, the mention of BMPs (Best Management Practices) to any water utility practitioner brings a look of frustration, and perhaps fear.  This may be due to the use of BMPs by the state to promote certain practices in water conservation, rate making, and more.  This may explain why while attending a water utility data conference at Stanford a few weeks ago, a wholesale water engineer proposed the idea of Water Utility Data BMPs, and this got a chuckle from the audience.
 

Water Energy Nexus Work in California

In February 2016, The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopted Decision 15-09-023 which provides a set of analytical tools to quantify the benefits of water savings. The purpose of one of the tools, the water energy nexus calculator is to enable the CPUC, Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), and other stakeholders to quantify and capture ‘embedded energy’ savings stemming from water conservation programs. In a follow-on decision, the CPUC issued Assigned Commissioner’s Ruling Regarding Advanced Meter Infrastructure Pilot Proposals and Setting Workshop (November 20, 2015).

How Can Utilities Cope With Mounting Financial Challenges?

Water utility financial practices are constantly evolving. According to Dr. Christine E Boyle, the optimal strategy for each utility to meet challenges successfully is to minimize risks associated with external changes and to increase internal financial resilience.

Rate changes are often used by utilities as a way to cope with financial problems. Budget-based rates, also known as individualized rates, have emerged as a way to meet efficiency, cost-recovery, and social equity goals (Mayer et al, 2008). Valor Water Rate Simulator helps utilities understand revenue profiles and plan strategy and visualize the impact of new rate structures like budget-based rates, peak set rates and customer select rates, and has been successfully leveraged by utilities in California and South-East USA.

In addition to rate adjustment, efficient water use can also be important in minimizing risk and building financial resilience.

The cycle of the conservation - revenue resilience is presented below:

  1. Conserving water allows utilities to cut operation and maintenance costs and defer expensive supply expansion projects.
  2. As conservation policies go into effect, the seasonal fluctuation of water use decreases, resulting in more stable customers use and associated customer sales.
  3. Reducing seasonal use eases the pressure to supply water during peak seasons and also helps achieve revenue stability.
  4. Minimizing costs and stabilizing revenue are help utilities strengthen their financial and credit standing with rating agencies. This is a major shift from previous views in which conservation was evaluated as a credit weakness that would result in decreased revenue.

To read the full article on Adapting to change: Water utility financial practices in the early twenty-first century, click here. 

We welcome your comment and questions. Feel free to contact us at [email protected]

When Big Customers Make Big Changes

Valor Water Analytics recently built Non Residential Customer Sales Dashboards for four utilities in North Carolina. Read about the project’s Plateau Analysis and how these utilities are putting findings into action on project partner University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center blog, here: When Big Customers Make Big Changes.