What is data exhaust and what use is it?

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Data exhaust is perhaps something you don't pay much attention to – and that's if you've heard of it at all. It may then surprise you to learn that data exhaust is actually something you should be thinking about as part of your data strategy. It may surprise you even further to know that it is somewhat a pot of gold.

Data exhaust gets its interesting name from the idea of a car exhaust. When a motorist is driving, they may leave a trail of exhaust streams behind them. The same applies to data exhaust; when people engage digitally, they create a digital trail (otherwise known as their digital footprint). The byproduct of this journey is data exhaust, which refers to the data they generate through their online behaviour.

On an enterprise scale, the definition is different. Business data exhaust is the customer information you collect that is not core to your business. Most organisations try to identify the obvious: which demographics engage the most, what products are most popular, and so on. However, for real reward, they need to seek insights that are outside of the typical box.

A little exhaust can be good sometimes

Often, when we deal with data, we are overcome by tunnel vision. We have fostered cultures of being able to ask data a question (namely big data) to get a quick, clear answer – but what about the questions we don't think to ask?

Data exhaust points you in the right direction. You can't possibly know what you're not looking for, but by delving into your data exhaust, you will find it. This will give you insight into the customer journey that you may not have considered before.

For example, let's say you're investigating your most popular product or service, as many businesses do. You might learn along the way that most of your customers pay for it through Apple Pay. As a result, you may start considering the creation an iOS app to accommodate for this trend.

There is a wealth of customer insight to be realised from your data exhaust. You must remember the aim of the game: to get to know your customers as best as possible. Therefore, you can repurpose what you learn about them to deliver services they'll enjoy even more.

That's not to say that all data exhaust is of use though. You will unfortunately find that the reason you don't already use a lot of it is because you don't need to. In turn, you should strategise what stays and what goes.

Enjoy this article? Why not check out the pros and cons of secondary data?