How can you successfully unify your internal and external data in a way that drives better insights into your prospects and customers?

Who remembers the 1988 movie Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver? The film even had Joan Cusack in one of her classic turns as the sidekick, not to mention a budding young actor named Kevin Spacey and a coming-of-age Alec Baldwin!

I caught the movie again the other day for the first time in years, and I was struck by the pivotal scene near the end, when Griffith’s character Tess McGill, the secretary-cum-executive, explains how she came up with the idea for a major corporate acquisition.

Much to the chagrin of Katherine Parker (Weaver’s character) – who’s trying to claim credit for putting the deal together herself – Tess walks the other executives through how she connected the dots on the two companies. As she explains, it was a matter of synthesizing seemingly disparate pieces of information from sources like Forbes, Page Six of the New York Post, and celebrity news from the “People Page.”

Tess claims that through her daily reading, she just happened to notice the connections between two companies and put the pieces together. But you couldn’t possibly systematize something like that, right? Well, maybe not in 1988, when the movie was released. But today? You bet your bippy.

Actually, let me temper that a bit – the technology for data integration is there, but its real-life application is still in its infancy. When I talk with clients about data management, they often say one of the biggest challenges they face is unifying information across sales, marketing and the rest of the company in order to derive actionable insights.

Interestingly, the idea of folding in outside data sources (e.g. public financials and news, privately held trigger information) is often the shiny new object that organizations chase these days, eschewing the mundane task of getting their own house in order. The result is a mishmash of data that provides some incremental value, but lacks the impact that a cohesive information strategy would have.

So while the prospect of fusing existing and new data sources remains promising – just as Tess’ career prospects were at the end of Working Girl – the full potential has yet to be realized.

Are you the exception? Do you have an example of how you’ve successfully unified your internal and external data in a way that drives better insights into your prospects and customers? Share your experience here, and let’s discuss!