On the heels of the technology deluge at CES and tech companies gearing up to launch new products in 2015, it's easy to overlook the practical stuff that still need to be solved. These are also huge opportunities, but they're going to need companies with courage to tackle them.
In general, there's always plenty of buzzing around fresh ideas in the tech industry, but too much of it focuses on quick hits and low hanging fruit. That's the easy stuff. It's a lot harder to go after intractable problems. But, we need some companies to step up, show leadership, take risks, and doggedly pursue solutions to these big problems.
Make no mistake, some of these challenges connect into the larger themes of 2015, but they need a stronger focus on usefulness, especially for solutions that can benefit organizations and professionals.
So I've put together a wishlist -- four big problems that I'd like to see some companies pursue in 2015 to make things better for professionals and businesses.
1. Wearables that improve the lives of business professionals
While wearable technology has consistently been one of the hottest topics in the industry over the past year, most of the products have been stuck in the loop of trying to solve the one problem -- fitness and activity tracking.
Even if we just stick to wristbands and smatchwatches and ignore other types of wearables, it would be excellent to see products aimed at using wearables to streamline the work day for professionals. Think of a wristband that could replace your badge for accessing buildings (paired with a keycode, for example). Or, imagine a wristband or watch that you could use as a Bluetooth two-factor authentication device with your laptop or the company printer. Or, think of scanning your band to pay for your lunch in the company cafeteria. These are just a few of the kinds of practical uses of wearables that could help streamline corporate life. Of course, employees will also legitimately fear that these systems will enable employers to track their movements and find them wherever they are in the building or on the corporate campus.
2. Mobile payments that break out of the ecosystem wars
When you look at how mobile payments have taken off in Kenya and Australia, there's plenty of demand for using phones as wallets. If it's easy enough to use then people will quickly get on board. And streamlining financial transactions can be a huge benefit for small businesses and entrepreneurs
However, part of the problem in the US and other places that are lagging behind is that it's unclear how to get started or which company to work with. Competing mobile payment ecosystems -- from tech companies to wireless providers to banks to payment processors like Visa -- are all trying to elbow each other out to get as many transaction fees as possible from users. This has left consumers and businesses confused about who to use. While several companies have tried to form alliances, none of those have taken off either. This is a huge and intractable problem, but one that needs a timely solution in order to bring mobile payments to life.
3. Two-factor authentication that becomes the standard
For anything that includes valuable personal or financial data, the standard should be two-factor authentication. We've seen again and again in recent years that many of the biggest security hacks are perpetrated by attacking passwords. Passwords were the weakest link in the overblown CENTCOM Twitter hack recently, but passwords were either attacked or targeted in a lot more dangerous break-ins in recent years. From Adobe to Evernote to EBay to JPMorgan Chase, passwords keep getting targeted.
Two-factor authentication has gotten a toe-hold in a few cases -- Twitter and Gmail have pushed users to embrace it -- but what we really need is for two-factor to become standard across the industry for all places where sensitive user and financial data is stored. There can be a number of different ways to implement it -- from security codes texted to cell phones to physical devices (such as wearable tech) paired with passwords -- and users should have several choices. But, this one move would make a huge difference in the overall security of the tech industry.
4. Big data that delivers more value
There is an on old saying in the tech industry that we are "data rich and information poor." This goes back a long time, long before anyone ever uttered the phrase "big data." The idea is that we get lots of data in, but turning it into useful, actionable insights that can change the way we make decisions is really hard. And it's always been hard.
It was a tough problem to solve when we were dealing with structured business data and trying to convert it into dashboards that highlight out the most important bits. But now, with big data, we are dealing with structured business data plus data from IoT sensors plus unstructured public data plus unstructured social media data and much more. The combinations of these things can yield amazing new insights and can drive automation and efficiency.
Lots of companies are getting into this field and many of them are doing amazing work. But, we need more. We need it in every industry. We need it for every sized company. And, above all, we need solutions that can ease the burden on turning data into insights so that it's not solely limited to work of data scientists.
ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.