The growing importance of Natural Language Processing (NLP)

We caught up recently with Doug Hague, Executive Vice President, Chief Analytics Officer, BANK OF AMERICA MERCHANT SERVICES ahead of the upcoming Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Canada conference happening on May 16-17, 2017 in Toronto. We had a delightful conversation about his journey to becoming a data leader, and the growing importance of NLP and new opportunities it presents. Read on.


Corinium: Please tell us about your journey to becoming a data and analytics leader.

Doug Hague: As I look back at the various roles I’ve held – from engineering to research to development and strategy, the common thread was that I had to use math and logic to solve everyday challenges. Of course one has to understand data and systems as well, so I’ve had to learn quite a bit about structured and now unstructured data and databases along the way. One thing that I think is critical to anyone in the analytics space is curiosity and willingness to learn new skills. The technology and tools as well as the oversight requirements for regulated industries is changing very quickly. To become an executive leader – and Chief Analytics Officer specifically – I’ve had to not only learn new things, but be willing to take responsibilities and positions outside of my comfort zone. Looking back it seems like a natural progression – but I have to say that it wasn’t always clear when I was on the path.


Corinium: Do you see your role changing/evolving in the next 5 years? If so, how?

Doug Hague: Five years ago, the roles of the chief analytics officer and chief data officer simply didn’t exist. In fact, when attempting to create the job description of my current role, I had to scour the internet and collaborate with various professional organizations to put something together. Today, it’s incredible to see how the focus has shifted as more companies are starting to embrace the role. I believe the trend will only continue and, with that, the role will become better defined and more influential.


Corinium: What are the main objectives for data/analytics within your organisation?

Doug Hague: Our focus is on helping our business functions and clients make sense of the mountains of data at their fingertips. Our clients look to us to provide insightful and actionable guidance to drive positive change. For example, Bank of America Merchant Services began assisting a large quick-service restaurant that wanted to find out if a marketing campaign was driving traffic. Using analytics, we were able to provide the information they needed to spend their marketing budget strategically.


Corinium: What is the biggest challenge you face within your role today and how are you looking to tackle it?

Doug Hague: Today, more businesses than ever are harnessing the power of analytics and big data to make smarter business decisions. I believe this trend will increase exponentially over the next five years. However, while the quality of data that companies have at their fingertips is more robust and plentiful than ever before – it can also be extremely overwhelming, resulting in very few outlets taking full advantage of its capabilities. My role, and the role of my team is to make the data palatable and relevant for our clients to help them make smarter business decisions.


Corinium: What do you feel is the biggest challenge faced by the analytics/big data industry currently and in what ways does this affect your business?

Doug Hague: Today, the business intelligence and analytics tools market has become highly competitive due to the proliferation of data and data sources. In order for clients to make positive business decisions, you must have individuals on hand who can accurately read, decipher and direct clients based on that data. One of the biggest challenges I see today is the scarce supply of candidates in my field with the right business, leadership and interpersonal skills to maximize today’s big data opportunities. Having the right people in place with the appropriate skillsets is crucial to maintaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


Corinium: Where do you see being the biggest area of investment in analytics within your industry over the next 12 months?

Doug Hague: The advent of devices for the home that understand natural language, like Amazon’s Echo, has led to increased demand for similar products for use in a variety of industries from banking to transportation. To me, one of the most exciting uses for such technology is through the use of the natural language data search – enabling business users to interact with large data sets and trends and extract the information they need almost instantly. The possibilities for this type of usage are extremely exciting, and I believe we will see this market grow significantly over the next twelve months.


Corinium: If you could have one piece of technology which would revolutionise you and/or your department’s activities, what would it be? It could be something that already exists, or not…

Doug Hague: Having the ability to use natural language software definitely would. Today quite a few large companies – such as Apple, IBM and Google – are transforming data with their search systems. Newer players, like AnswerRocket, are also making their own advancements in the space. These platforms will continue to evolve and enable more efficient and accurate augmentation of my team as well as our business leaders.


Corinium: What is your ultimate goal as a data and analytics leader?

Doug Hague: My ultimate goal is to ensure the success of all the lines of business my team supports within Bank of America Merchant Services and, most importantly, to help our clients use data to make more profitable decisions.


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