What Is Data Exhaust – And Why Should Event Planners Care About It

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard people talking about The Internet of Things. In brief, this is a trend that involves equipping previously ‘dumb’ devices – engines, watches, clothing; you name it – with Internet-enabled sensor technology. This, in turn, allows businesses to tap into something known as “data exhaust.”

Let’s back up a bit. In order to understand data exhaust – and indeed, the Internet of Things as a whole – we’re first going to need to take a closer look at big data. The three concepts are, after all, inextricably linked; an understanding of each is vital to tap into their benefits.

Kick back, folks, and be prepared. This could get kind of confusing.

Defining Big Data, Or “The Problem With Buzzwords”

The problem with any discussion about the Internet of Things is that it’s rife with buzzwords. Big data is one of the most prevalent, and most ill-defined in the business world. No one’s entirely certain what the term means. Some argue that it’s all unstructured information created by our online interactions – our posts and clicks on Facebook, the videos we watch on YouTube, the emails we send out; all stuff created in the past several years.

Others maintain that, no, it’s just a new term for data that’s always existed in one form or another. Still more hold that the only deciding factor in what makes data “big” is that it’s too large for traditional database and analytics software to deal with. Perhaps the only thing anyone can agree on is that the insights gained from it can be incredibly valuable for just about any organization.

Yeah, it’s kind of a mess – but that’s the joy of dealing with buzzwords, right?

Thankfully, there are at least a few people in this whole cacophony who actually know what they’re talking about. Perhaps the best explanation of the term I’ve ever read comes courtesy of research firm Gartner. In 2001, the firm published a study on the different types of data. That study was updated two years ago to account for developments in the field.

“Big data,” reads the study, “is high-volume, -velocity, and –variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.”

Velocity:  Big data moves fast. It’s created at incredibly high speeds, and changes its nature even faster.

Volume: Big data is, well…it’s huge, in much the same way that the universe is huge. I can tell you twenty different ways about how staggeringly large the data generated by our society is, but it’ll ultimately be impossible for any human being to truly conceptualize. We’re talking about the creation of terabytes (or maybe even petabytes) of information here.

Variety:  Years ago, most businesses worked almost exclusively with structured data. It fit neatly into databases, was easy to analyze, and followed a set of clearly-defined rules. Big data, well…doesn’t. While there’s undoubtedly some structured data mixed in, most big data doesn’t really have any defined form or format. It just…is.

Variability: A recent addition to Gartner’s definition, variability is a term used to refer to data whose meaning constantly changes – mostly because the sentiment behind the data is so fluid. Now, since that definition’s a little confusing by itself, I’m going to refer to an explanation posed by Datafloq’s Mark van Rijmenam: “Say you have a bakery that sells 10 different breads. That’s variety. Now imagine you go to that bakery three days in a row and buy the same type of bread, but each day it smells and tastes different. That is variability.”

So basically, big data is a term used to refer to the massive volume of information generated by the Internet and its connected tech, gathered and analyzed in real-time by teams of data scientists equipped with specialized tools.

Make sense, right? Sort of?

What Exactly IS Data Exhaust?

Alright. We’ve a working definition of big data; it’s now time to move on to data exhaust. Basically, data exhaust exists as a direct byproduct of our interactions with the digital world. When you make a post on Facebook, for example, traditional data science would look at the intent of the post, the clicks you went through to get there, and what you did after making it.

Data exhaust, meanwhile, is the data generated by Facebook’s servers. It’s the computations carried out by your computer, and your modem, and your Internet Service Provider’s routing technology. It is, quite literally, data created simply by running a connected machine.

And yes, data exhaust is a form of big data. You’ll even find some people who argue that the two are one and the same – data exhaust is big data and vice versa. It’s incredibly confusing, and we aren’t touching that debate with a ten foot pole. For the purposes of this piece, we’re going to treat the two as distinct entities.

Now, a lot of that data exhaust is either ignored or gathered without much thought as to what it could potentially be used for. The problem, again, is that no one’s really sure what to make of it. Although some tools – Splunk, for example – exist to allow organizations to gain insights from data exhaust, most businesses still don’t really deal with it in any meaningful way.

That’s a shame, really, especially if you consider how data exhaust and IoT complement one another.

The Connection Between Data Exhaust And IoT

Thanks to the Internet of Things, more and more of our devices are being hooked up to the Internet. What that means is that data exhaust is coming from more and more sources – and growing immensely more valuable as a result. Where we were once chiefly looking at servers, application platforms, and sales systems, we could soon be seeing everything from watches to cars to doorframes generating torrents of digital information – and just as much exhaust data.

It’s not hard to see why this development is incredibly promising. When we talk about data exhaust and the Internet of Things, we’re talking about a completely connected digital world; one in which any business that cares to look can put together a complete, intricate picture of their working parts. This, in turn, offers up a host of insights that would be otherwise impossible to see.

Properly analyzed, this staggering volume of information could reveal everything from subtle changes in consumer behavior to by-the-minute sales figures to whether or not a particular attendee is enjoying the keynote they’ve chosen to attend at an event.

How exactly does this look in practice, though?

“New York Air Brakes uses byproduct machine data for a wide variety of things, including remote freight train monitoring, energy efficiency calculations, and driving strategy recommendations,” reads a piece written on the Berkeley Data Science Blog. “In one example, 5,000 trains were equipped with sensors that passively monitored things like fuel consumption and forces exerted on moving trains. By making adjustments accorded to issues found in the data, the trains saw improvements between 8 and 12 percent.”

Not bad, right? But we still haven’t answered the core question we set out to address with this piece. How does all of this stuff relate to event management?

Why should you, as an event planner, care about data exhaust?

How Digital Connectivity Can Lead To Better Events

We’ve spent a lot of time today rambling about technological advances and the insights that can be gained from them. Let’s try to center things a bit. What, precisely, does the Internet of Things (and the exhaust data generated by it) mean for the event industry?

Quite a bit, actually.

For one, event management professionals will have the ability to gain more knowledge on the mood, preferences, and general behavior of their attendees than ever before.

By analyzing the information gathered through a multitude of connected gadgets, event planners will be able to tailor their events to the specific needs of the audience far more effectively.

This represents a huge step forward for the current market, where event applications, social channels, and surveys are the only reliable methods of determining audience intent – and they’re all rather imperfect, besides.

Equipment, meanwhile, can be more closely and carefully monitored; analyzing the voltage of a sound system could give an audio technician advanced warning when the system’s about the fail.

There’s also the matter of event marketing to consider. Through careful examination of the data surrounding registrations, ticket sales, and attendance numbers, event management professionals can form a more complete picture of how well their marketing campaign for an event has resonated with their audience – in real-time, of course.

The Internet of Things doesn’t just benefit event planners, either. There are some huge advantages to be seen for vendors, as well. Booths and point of sale systems can be set up so that they’re able to connect to the Internet – at which point they’ll be able to actively examine and analyze how profitable their presence at the event ended up being for their brand. Not only that, through wearable technology, vendors will gain new avenues through which they can interact with attendees – carrying out seminar registration with a smart watch, for example; or setting up an augmented reality display visible through Google Glass.

Last but certainly not least, guest speakers can use this increased connectivity to enrich their keynotes, interspersing them with augmented reality and giving their guests the opportunity to take a more active role in their presentation than ever before. Imagine, if you would, a guest speaker who knew exactly who his audience was; exactly how many of each demographic was present to hear him talk. Imagine a guest speaker who could set up a virtual reality presentation, or allow guests to shoot questions and content on-stage with their phones or tablets.

We’re getting a little off-track here, of course – all the stuff we’re talking about here is tied closely to the Internet of Things, but it’s not all connected to data exhaust. At least…not in any direct sense. Data exhaust represents the informational side of the Internet of Things, all the insights that event management professionals and the people they work with can gain through greater visibility of their events and the people who attend them.

In short, the reason event management professionals should pay attention to data exhaust can be summed up in one word: knowledge. Through the Internet of Things, event planners have the capacity to gain more knowledge about the events they’re running than at any other point in history. Proper examination and analysis of that knowledge will lead to events that are bigger, better, and ultimately more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Seems like a pretty good reason to care, doesn’t it?