All posts by Matt Farrington-Smith

Who’s responsible for writing a specification or brief?

Who's responsible for writing a brief?

With over 300 questions and over 1000 answers, the Procurious Discussion forum is one of the most active on social media. But there is always room for more. If you have a question, please hop over to the forum and post it up!

By way of thanking you for your continuing support, we’ve picked a particularly popular topic from the last month:

Who’s responsible for writing a specification or brief?

Procurement has been tagged as the responsible party for the generation of a specification or brief but I believe this to be incorrect. What has been your experience?

This was an interesting question from Sarah Lees, providing some diverse answers from the community. Responsibility for writing specifications or briefs can vary depending on industry, company or how it has been done in the past.

Although there was no overall consensus on the responsibility, there was agreement that procurement needed to play a role in the process, whether that was facilitation, clarification or writing the document.

A number of the responses highlighted the need for a cross-functional or multiple stakeholder led approach, where procurement facilitated a group including the end user, requester, departments such as engineering or sales, as well as potentially preferred suppliers.

Involving the supplier can allow for clarification on requirements before quotation and supply, while also opening up opportunities for innovation or alternative solutions. Suppliers may play a role as a key stakeholder and, as such, it is worth considering them to be part of the group.

Key to the discussion was the idea that ‘they got what they asked for’ was no longer an acceptable excuse. In order to ensure that the right product is sourced first time, procurement can question and evaluate requirements – does the product need to be bespoke, will an off the shelf version work, is this actually required – and ensure that suppliers are getting a specification that they can understand and respond to.

If you’re still unsure, check out Procurious’ video on developing a Scope of Work. This shows the SOW and Specification as two distinct documents, gives an overview on formats of specifications (functional or descriptive) and highlights what role procurement plays.

How do you go about transforming a bribery-entrenched culture?

Procurious has been in Cardiff attending Procurement Week 2015. We heard from Simone Davina General Counsel & Company Secretary at Siemens Netherlands, on the challenges of rooting out bribery and rebuilding trust.

Inspired by Simone’s words, we set about charting Siemens’ course on its road to recovery. Read on to see how it reversed the damage done.

The bribery scandal that rocked Siemens

Siemens on transforming a bribery-entrenched culture

We don’t want to teach you how to suck eggs, so there’s no need to school you on on the big ‘C’ – Corruption. Suffice to say that this threat is a scourge for all mankind, and has devastating effects on even the world’s strongest economies.

Fined in 2008 to a tune of $1.6bn – this record legal settlement served as a (highly-costly, overtly public) wake-up call to the German conglomerate.

US authorities charged eight former executives in connection with a $100m (ú64m) foreign bribery scheme. The bribes related to a $1bn contract to produce national identity cards in Argentina.

This was not the first time Siemens’ was thrust into the bribery spotlight. Allegations around deals between Siemens AG and Greek government officials during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens regarding security systems and purchases by OTE in the 1990s.

…As a result Siemens set about building a self-cleaning initiative.

How do you turn around a company like this?

If Siemens’ was going to get a second chance it would require an almighty effort. Collaboration with investigators, compensation for damages, guarantees that the situation won’t happen again – achieve all that and you’re just scraping the surface…

Challenges to scale this work across countries. Not so much of a problem in the Netherlands, but harder when it comes to China, the Americas etc. But if a company of such a size as Siemens can’t do it, then who can? That was the question Siemens’ CEO Peter Löscher was posed.

Peter Solmssen – Siemens general counsel, also believed that global cooperation was key. “If we, the major companies and, really, anyone in private industry, link arms, we can drive corruption out of our markets. I call it the Cartel of the Good. If we cooperate, then there is no bribery.”

In years before, Siemens’ operated in 190 countries across the world (with these distilled further into 70 clusters). Löscher reorganised this sprawling cluster system by condensing down to 20, and creating a steering committee to manage on a quarterly basis.

Out with the old – a seismic change in culture

In senior management 80 per cent were moved outside of Siemens. The old boys network had to be disbanded. In order to break the cycle, the peer-pressure, the whole culture needed a shake-up. Reinvigoration.

This was just the beginning – you could say that “bribery was Siemens’ business model”. An investigator from around the time of the scandal pointed out that internally Siemens referred to bribes as “nützliche Aufwendungen,” – a German accounting euphemism that meant “useful money”. But we must remember that until 1999, the act of turning a bribe was considered legal practice in Germany. German corporations were freely allowed to deduct bribes from taxable income. However, this was a new millennium and corruption was still very much at the core. Löscher realised in order to successfully weed-out the detritus he would need help from the very individuals with dirt on their hands.

The Guardian reported: Löscher offered his workers a deal: He promised that anyone who came forward to admit their involvement in bribery would get full amnesty. Not only wouldn’t they be fired, but the company promised to help with any legal problems stemming from these admissions. On the other hand, those employees who didn’t come forward, but were later found guilty of bribery, would be fired. Solmssen estimates that “about 130” employees came forward to admit their role in bribery and to explain where the money had gone.

In an interview with Harvard Business Review (Nov 2012) Löscher would later muse: “The scandal created a sense of urgency without which change would have been much more difficult to achieve, regardless of who was CEO. Siemens is a very proud company with a history of innovation and success. In the absence of a catalyst like this, people would have asked themselves, ‘Why alter anything?'”

In the period between the offence (2008) and that HBR interview, Siemens would invest in a 500-strong compliance team, instill a former Interpol official to head-up the newly-created investigations unit and put the company-wide compliance programs into place. An online portal would also be used to begin integrity dialogs, allowing staff to evaluate risk when starting tenders with companies. Siemens wanted to be in a position to end agreements if it suspected non-compliance – even going as far as carrying out audits at desks.

This welcomed in a new era of transparency for Siemens – for the first time it was placing itself very much in full view, demonstrating its meteoric changes to a quiet, questioning public.

By 2008 almost half of its 400,000 staff had undertaken training in anti-corruption issues.

5 factors to consider when deciding on a supplier

What are the top 5 factors you consider when deciding to partner with a supplier?

Factors to consider when choosing a supplier

The second part of the discussion wrap this month looks at the factors that are considered when deciding on supplier partnerships. The top five factors were (in no particular order):

  • Cultural Fit – including values
  • Cost – covering price, Total Cost of Opportunity (TCO)
  • Value – value for money and value generation opportunities
  • Experience in the market and current references
  • Flexibility
  • Response to change – in orders and products
  • Quality – covering product and service quality and quality history

Okay, we know that’s seven but it was hard to split a couple of the more popular ones!

Other factors suggested by the community included trust and professionalism, strategic and process alignment and technical ability.

The final factors are worth investigating in more detail. It’s critical to have executive level buy-in from both sides otherwise it can cause the relationship to stall. Supplier innovation should also be considered, particularly in line with any cost-cutting or process streamlining efforts by the supplier, as this may in turn lead to value creation for the purchasing organisation.

Finally, it was recommended that buyers should be aware of the breakdown in business percentage on both sides. You neither want to represent a high percentage of the supplier’s business, nor do you want to rely on the supplier too heavily.

For more on this theme, check out the following articles:

The Importance of SRM – https://www.procurious.com/blog/in-the-press/three-key-insights-on-the-importance-of-srm

Take a ‘joined-up’ approach to logistics – https://www.procurious.com/blog/in-the-press/in-logistics-take-the-joined-up-approach

Considering the Right Outsource Partner – http://www.fronetics.com/7-things-consider-choosing-right-outsource-partner/

Born in the USA: the little phone that could

Will a streamlined supply chain give a small manufacturer just enough of an edge to take on the big boys? 

BLU Products Vivo Air

A new combatant is suiting-up and joining the fierce smartphone battleground…

Wave hello to BLU Products, its newest Android smartphone – the Vivo Air, measures in at an impossibly thin 5.1mm thick and 3.5 ounces in weight.

Making it the thinnest and lightest phone available right now in the US. At just £199, it might just be one of the most affordable little firecrackers out there  – and we’re talking unlocked/off-contract too.

It takes guts to move into a crowded marketplace… BLU Products joins the ranks of Motorola, HTC, ZTE, LG, OnePlus, and Yota (to name but a few) – underdogs they may be, but that doesn’t mean going toe-to-toe will be any easier.

From small acorns…

The Vivo Air comes from an impressive stable – take a cursory glance at BLU Products’ smartphone portfolio (including the likes of the BLU Life One, Dash, Studio, and Life series) and you’ll see the burgeoning manufacturer is cranking out handsets at a spritely pace. BLU Products specialises in targeting developing markets with its range of affordable, high-speed, unlocked Android devices – a USP that is proving something of a success for the new kid on the block.

BLU Products came to life in 2009 and has since gone on to shift 10 million handsets in over 40 different countries. Despite its relatively small size, it’s one of the fastest growing manufacturers of mobile products in the world.

Its Brazilian entrepreneur – Sammy Ohev-Zion, spent 17 years previous in various roles, building essential experience that would later serve BLU Products well.

Take the manufacturers we cited above – the Motorola’s and Samsung’s of the world – Ohev-Zion realised that it doesn’t matter who you are, the price of manufacturing a handset remains a constant. Thanks to multi-million dollar marketing costs, exclusivity deals with mobile networks, and any artificially-inflated extras the manufacturer chooses, the retail price is usually double (or triple) the cost price.

In 2009 the dream came to pass, and with the formation of BLU Products, Ohev-Zion is taking aim at the big boys – he wants to beat them at their own game.

In an interview with The Verge, Ohev-Zion commented: “Previously for a startup company to be able to manufacture — if you weren’t one of these billion-dollar companies you didn’t have the access or the technologies to make your own mobile devices.” The supply chain of suppliers, designers, manufacturers, and retailers required was just not sustainable… Therefore dislodging this status quo was high on BLU’s agenda, and it had some much-needed help when the world slowly emerged from the throes of economic recession. There was suddenly an abundance of readily available components and manufacturers willing to take on production duties.

A healthy supply chain (smartphone or otherwise) also requires adequate means to pay its distributors and BLU Products found itself in an enviable position thanks to Ohev-Zion’s standing with Amazon and Best Buy (among others).

Innovate not imitate

On the face of it, BLU Products mantra is simple – high speed, high performance smartphones needn’t command a similarly high price tag. Consumers shouldn’t have to compromise on quality, design or experience.

In The Verge piece, the BLU founder cites one of America’s biggest manufacturers of affordable flat screen TVs – Vizio, as a direct comparison. Vizio pack just the same impressive technology into their screens, but do away with the costly overheads and the eye-watering RRP.

From its humble base in Florida, it seems BLU Products’ masterplan is paying off handsomely.

Supply and demand is alive and well in the British toy industry

With sales at a four-year high, is it all fun and games for the British toy industry? 

Toy Fair 2015 at London Olympia

Toy Fair is the only dedicated toy, game and hobby trade exhibition in the UK. Through Jan 20-22 London’s Olympia opens its doors to the UK and European toy trade, as more than 260 companies debut their wares to retailers, buyers, and the media.

The British toy market has increased by 4.4 per cent in 2014, its best result since 2010 (+8 per cent), to reach £3 billion at retail, an increase of £130 million.

According to the global information provider, The NPD Group, 2014 was boosted by a comeback of collectable brands where unit sales rose by over 12 per cent to 416 million toys, as sales under £5 increased by 9 per cent. This comes after a flat performance was recorded for 2013.

“This is a tremendous result for the British toy industry during a year of challenging trading conditions. The industry continually evolves to remain relevant to the demands from children and their families and this innovation combined with many consumers’ desire to prioritise their children’s playtime has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the year,” commented Roland Earl, Director General of the BTHA.

For the first time ever, toy sales during Black Friday week increased by as much as 10 per cent as consumers snapped up big ticket items and electronic toys. This resulted in Black Friday sales exceeding those of the week prior to Christmas, traditionally the largest selling week in the toy market. Overall, the Christmas season was strong with an overall increase of 3 per cent year-on-year for December.

Dog eat dog

It’s not just the supplier trying to keep their costs down, and losses at a minimum.

Despite the health of the British toy market, there are pitched battles being fought in the retail space, as Brian Simpson – Buyer and General Manager of the family-run SMF ToyTown observes:

“Our industry is set on slaughtering each other, with most of the majors trying to be the cheapest on every line and leaving the rest of us to try and shift the stocks we bought at cost price or below.”

Simpson continues: “Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of good stuff happening in 2015… but we really need another craze that captures kids minds. I know that sales of other items reduced because of the Loom craze, but I don’t see things being balanced with the natural uplift of other items to cover off the demand from Looms, it will be an interesting Q1 for us to see what trends there are… I’m finding my attention is increasingly drawn towards trying to see which products I feel will be price-slashed at Christmas, and therefore my approach is far more defensive.”

Peering into the crystal ball – Jonty Chippendale from The Toy Shop in Cumbria comments: “[2015 needs] better margins, lower carriage paid enabling me to order frequently, and lower volumes to thereby range better.” 

Coiledspring Games - a UK success story with Robot Turtles

Coiledspring Games: a UK success story

Coiledspring Games are completely UK-based (Twickenham to be precise), but the moderate-sized distributors are growing rapidly. Coiledspring has now amassed a portfolio of a few hundred games, and to-date it has shifted over three million Rory’s Story Cubes. Last year Coiledspring Games had three of the Guardian’s top 5 new games for 2014…

Coiledspring told us that they’ve started to turn their attention to manufacturing their own games and products. Why? For profitability of course.

There are two ways of achieving this: either buy a game that’s already available in another terror and rebrand it, or in the case of Dodekka (otherwise known as Numberwang) take preexisting elements to carve a new theme.

Dodekka was a cross-collaborative effort. Coiledspring initially (and remotely) worked with an artist in the States, a UK-based designer helped with the rules, before Coiledspring started talking to manufacturers about box sizes, texture of the card, as well as card quality.

This has proved a good process to run through – so much so, that Coiledspring plan on bringing their first full-sized board game to market later in 2015.

WowWee demoed the MiPosaur at Toy Fair 2015

Is WowWee’s football playing dinosaur the saviour of toys?

From Coiledspring’s humble beginnings to a Hong Kong-based behemoth that designs, develops, markets and distributes its own brand of breakthrough consumer technology.

In 2014 WowWee’s MiP proved to be one of the world’s most popular consumer robots – shifted 750k units, capping-off a truly successful year.

For 2015 WowWee toyed with different forms, maybe a dog, maybe another different robotic form. They settled on MiPosaur – a highly intelligent, gesture controlled, robotic creature that can sense its own surroundings and environment.

WowWee’s product is all made overseas [in China], the stock is then imported, and stored domestically ready for distribution.

We spoke to a WowWee representative at the show: “We [WowWee] were the pioneers of robotics, it’s definitely a more-cluttered space these days. Spin Master is obviously a big competitor with tech stuff. But still think we deliver top quality product in the space, and it’s nice, it’s nice to have competition. It expands the category as well; it’s a very growing category in a lot of retailers. With regards to cutting corners: for someone to knock us off – the amount of technology in here [MiPosaur] is huge – I’d tip my hat to them.” 

“WowWee’s goals for 2015 will continue on its path of providing great innovation with proprietary technology and methodology that will deliver fantastic experiences at affordable prices within the field of robotics and youth electronics,” said WowWee Canada President Richard Yanofsky.

2015 will also see the launch of REV (Robotic Enhanced Vehicles).

Extreme Fliers will launch Micro Drone 3.0

The Drones are (still) coming

As regular readers will know this isn’t the first time the humble Drone has entered our airspace… Companies are increasingly looking towards Drone technology to provide logistics solutions – see Amazon, DHL, and more.

Of course kids need Drones too, so we were thrilled to see the Olympia’s skies awash with buzzing machines – some big, some small, and some even smaller.

But with Drones being in vogue, are there any worries that the market will soon be saturated?

We spoke to Extreme Fliers (the folks behind the Micro Drone) – a palm-sized Drone whose development dates back to 2010. They told us that when it comes to sourcing the highly specialized parts a lot of their competitors will elect to buy 1000 units (from China) to help drive costs down. Micro Drone differs because it’s taken a great deal of research and investment to get to this point – added to that; the company uses Makerbot 3D printers to build its toys. The investment spans a five-year period – and the end result is clearly not something that just happened overnight.

The third iteration of the popular flyer will incorporate HD camera-toting skills, a micro gimbal (for a smooth and stable flight), and support for the Google Cardboard VR Headset. All of that has been achieved at one of the most-affordable price points on the market – the Micro Drone 3 is expected to retail below £100 (competing models come in anywhere between £200-300+).

7 gadgets to help improve your sleep

Suffering from back to work blues?

Whether you’re putting on that extra layer to protect from the cold or basking in altogether warmer climes, January’s unlikely to ever win any accolades for favourite month of the year…

Ostrich Pillow - best gadgets to improve your sleep

To that end we’re providing you with a few good excuses to hide away and snuggle down for that little bit longer each morning. Eyes down for a selection of bizarre gadgets that will do everything from analysing your sleeping patterns to guaranteeing a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Number x12 bed

Sleep Number x12 bed

If someone were to remark that they thought your bed was pretty clever, you’d probably wonder whether they’d been getting enough sleep themselves… But you’d be forgetting that we live in an age where just about everything has become ‘smart’ – that’s right, even beds are getting in on the act.

US bed maker Sleep Number has gone and made the world’s first smart bed. The built-in Sleep IQ technology tracks the usual measurements (heart rate, breathing rate etc.) but also responds to voice commands to easily activate a wealth of other features. The x12 bed is also dual-sided and it (for example) allows you to make minute adjustments to alleviate a noisy snoring bedfellow.

At $8000 it certainly isn’t cheap, but with all that gadgetry onboard we’re sure you’ll enjoy a jolly nice sleep.

Clocky robotic alarm

Clocky Robotic Alarm

This little wonderful wheeled alarm clock started life as an engineering student’s project. Having trouble waking up herself, Gauri Nanda developed Clocky to shriek annoyingly and effectively, waking you up. The fun doesn’t end there though, Clocky will leap off your bedside table (without a thought for its own safety), and drive around your room, all the while performing random turns to whizz away from your grasp. There’s only one thing for it, you’ll have to get out of bed and hunt the little blighter down yourself.

Ostrich Pillow - sleep gadgets

Ostrich Pillow

“What is that silly thing around your head?” Enquires a bemused work colleague. “Why it’s only a revolutionary new product to enable easy power naps anytime, everywhere” you answer, Right, of course it is.

The Ostrich Pillow really can be used anywhere – be it airports, trains, aeroplanes, libraries, at the office, on a sofa and even on the floor. Heck we know it looks silly but its creators have been beavering away on the Ostrich Pillow for one year, testing and exploring the perfect dimensions and materials to create the best possible experience for the nap.

Selk'bag

Selk’bag

The strangely-named Selk’bag looks like a giant onesie, and has clearly been designed for those adults among us who just refuse to grow up (that makes most of us then).

It’s based on the Japanese Snuggie (which resembled a giant mutant tadpole) and amusingly became the stuff of Internet-lore back in 2009. Perfect for a variety of adventures, the Selk’bag is used by outdoor enthusiasts the world over for camping in a tent, under the stars, at the lake, on the beach, or log cabin (just don’t go scaring others in the woods…)

shapeup alarm clock

Shape Up Alarm Clock

It’s hard enough to get up in the morning and the Shape Up Alarm Clock (shaped like a dumbbell) is set to make things that little bit harder… OK so it’s a bit of a challenge, but you’ll look buff.

This is a digital alarm clock and dumbbell all wrapped up into one novelty alarm clock package. Set the digital alarm clock as normal using the friendly buttons and then wait for your wakeup call with a twist. Only the upward swing of the dumbbell shuts off the repeating buzz – 30 upward swings of the dumbbell that is – meanwhile you can watch your progress using the LCD display.

Sleep Recorder app for Windows Phone

Sleep Recorder App (for Windows Phone)

Prone to talking in your sleep? If you’ve ever wondered what you (or a loved one) sounds like then download the excellent Sleep Recorder app and see for yourself. Sleep Recorder uses your phone’s microphone to capture audio and saves the recording if it detects voice. It won’t record silence or noise. Editor’s tip: keep your phone plugged-in overnight to ease battery drain while in-use.

Sound Oasis Sleep Therapy Pillow

Sound Oasis Sleep Therapy Pillow

This unique pillow allows the weary to enjoy their favourite music or sounds in optimal relaxation and comfort. Audio is delivered via two high fidelity, ultra-thin stereo speakers positioned deep within the pillow, there is also an in-line volume control so you don’t need to faff around when turning the pillow up or down.

What’s more the pillow is finished with a soft brushed cover and hypoallergenic polyester fibrefill.

What are the burning issues affecting retailers in 2015?

Black Friday was arguably an important time for retailers, but what about the fragile post-Christmas when retailers are more at risk?

What risks do retailers face in 2015?

In retrospect it looks like Black Friday gave many high street retailers a much-needed shot in the arm. The last ONS retail sales report highlighted overall sales in November rose by 5.6 per cent and online sales increased by 12.9 per cent compared to the year previously. With the post-Christmas period expected to be a fragile time for the retail sector, as rents become due, for many companies it will be make or break.

With this is mind we’ll begin with some sobering words from the tail-end of 2014 courtesy of Dan Wagner, veteran retail expert and CEO of Powa Technologies: “It is apparent for me from the sharp rise in sales from Black Friday and Cyber Monday that retailers have been caught napping and many now have left it too late to respond to the rapid changes in consumer behaviour.”

“Consumers are driving this change and retailers need to review and innovate based on consumer behaviour – but the reality is that they have not innovated fast enough. These retailers are fighting for their own survival… In my view, changes in business rates alone are not going to be enough to halt the tide in the demise of those retailers that have failed to evolve. The post-Christmas period will be a bigger blood-bath than last year, and for some retailers, it is already too late.” 

In addition Nick Miller – Head of FMCG, writes: “As the festive season creeps closer, organisations, especially those operating within the FMCG sector, are ramping up their supply chain processes in order to cope with the influx in demand. Supply chains are pushed to the extreme limits and retailers are all too aware of the fact that getting it wrong at Christmas is the cause of many retail casualties.”

Crucially, Nick’s wasn’t issued on the eve of Christmas 2014… instead, an entire twelve months prior.

So what does this tell us? The same issues – year in, year out… Only some would argue that for every year that goes by, the stakes only get higher. Indeed, it seems some of the UK’s biggest retail powerhouses have been left licking their wounds after an especially vicious winter.

We’ve heard that Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer have all experienced struggles of their own in the post-Christmas period.

Although Sainsbury’s announced a 1.7 per cent fall in like-for-like sales over Christmas, the grocer had actually matched the same volume of sales as the previous year – except this time around (and perhaps crucially) the prices were lower. This is the first time in more than a decade it has experienced such a loss over the festive period.

Meanwhile Marks & Spencer has reported its 14th consecutive drop in clothing sales – a fall of 5.8 per cent during the third quarter. Online sales were also down 5.9 per cent, despite the introduction of a revamped website – a crucial entry point that should have borne fruit for the retailer.

Neil Saunders – Managing Director of retail research agency Columino commented: “This Christmas online was a critical channel for growth, accounting for a higher proportion of sales than ever before.”

He continued: “Unfortunately, M&S’s logistical problems meant that it could not properly enjoy the fruits of this growth.”

Year-on-year sales over at Tesco were down just 0.3 per cent – or up 0.1 per cent if fuel was factored in. But this hasn’t been enough to save it from a somewhat bleak aftermath, with bosses saying they will shutter 43 unprofitable stores across the UK.

Tesco’s plans for 49 ‘very large’ stores that had provisionally been given the go-ahead have been scrapped.

RetailWeek is also reporting that Tesco boss Dave Lewis is expected to scrap the system of rebates and penalty fees the supermarket forces on suppliers and instead focus on a scheme based on sales volume alone.

What do you make of all of this – if it’s happening to the UK’s most powerful retailers then surely no one is safe?

Driving home for Christmas: the best road warrior tech

A selection of nifty gadgets, accessories and app for those on the go this festive period.

Whether you’re melting in the Australian winter heat, navigating through dark icy highways, or winging it back to your family in business class – there’s something here for all types of traveller.

Griffin Survivor Case

Best protective case for your smartphone/tablet

After a military-grade cocoon for your precious smartphone/tablet? Look no further than Griffin’s Survivor range of protective shells.

The All-Terrain model offers an impressive four layers of protection to safeguard against drops, knocks, scrapes, as well as all manner of environmental threats.

And if you’re worried about fumbling for your phone in your oversized gloves, the chunky design of the shell will ensure it remains in place. Scratch-resistant polycarbonate looks after your screen, while a fingerprint scanner beefs up your security detail and prevents unauthorised access.

Give your phone an extra life by ordering yours for £30. The All-Terrain variant is available for a wide selection of different handsets and iPads – check yours before setting your heart on it.

G-Form XTREME case

Alternatively: The XTREME range from G-Form offer seriously beefy protection for all forms of smartphone and small-factor tablets.

All G-Form products offer Reactive Protection Technology with a rigid outer polycarbonate shell and an inner shock-absorbing TPE insert.

Prices start at around the £20 mark.

Roberts Travel Pad review

Roberts Travel Pad

Need something to keep you entertained on the road? Roberts punchy portable speaker will ensure the music never stops.

Although it’s compact enough for travel, its chunky frame (185mm w x 80 h x 25 d) and satisfying weight (336g) means you won’t be carrying it around in your trouser pocket.

It outputs via Bluetooth, so you can stream from your tablet, mobile or PC for a full 12 hours. Charging is achieved via a micro USB charging socket.

Place it on a wooden tabletop and the Travel Pad sounds commanding. It offers a deep and robust sound. Plus the non-slip base will protect it from any unfortunate accidents.

There’s also a dedicated button to answer calls from your mobile – the inbuilt microphone providing you with a convenient hands free solution.

It’s available now from around £80.

Bluesmart connected suitcase

The best luggage solution for the tech savvy

We’re not sure whether the Bluesmart really is the would’s first ‘connected’ suitcase but it certainly stands out in the identikit world of traveller’s baggage.

It’s pretty smart too – proximity sensors will lock it if it travels too far from your sight, and should you ever get separated (or rerouted through the airline system) you can track your bag’s location using a partner app. Want to know if your over your weight allowance? The built-in scale serves as a handy extra.

The drawback? You’ll have to wait until Aug 2015 for the first Bluesmart units to roll off the production line. Register your interest at bluesmart.com, and get ready to put down your $280.

Portable Pebble Charger and Speaker

Best power bank for portable electronics

You never want to find yourself caught short… Out of power that is.

The Pebble Aria is not just another portable charger, oh no, – it offers much more. It’s cylindrical design packs in (and admittedly tiny) speaker too, and the 3500mAh capacity will replenish your devices on up to two different occasions.

If you’re after some aural escape then you can always take advantage of the inbuilt 2W amplifier to soundtrack your ride.

Available from Firebox.com for £39.99.

MIPOW Power Cube 7800 Portable Charger

An alternative choice might be the MIPOW Power Cube 7800 Portable Charger

The Power Cube has a capacity of 7800mAh, with a maximum 2.4A output. That’s more than enough juice to bring your mobile phones or tablet back from the brink several times over, and is good for 500 discharge/recharge cycles.

What’s more it supports the charging of two devices at the same time, making the 5-7 hour recharging time that little bit sweeter.

UPP hydrogen fuel cell

Got a bit more cash to splash? The innovative Upp hydrogen fuel cell not only gives you a truckload of extra power but access to an innovative app to control all aspects of your battery usage.

The Upp battery solution works by connecting the Upp fuel cell to a replaceable Upp fuel cartridge. Empty fuel cartridges can be refuelled or exchanged at various points across your city.

The Upp app is free to all Upp users. Look under its hood and you’ll discover a wealth of fuel cell statistics and interactive charging data.

Upp is currently only available in the UK through Apple retail stores. Head to beupp.com for the latest developments. £149.

Jabra Stealth Bluetooth

Best gadget for communicating on the go

Harking back to the days when it looked like everyone was talking to themselves… the Jabra Stealth takes aim at the dwindling Bluetooth headset market with the ultimate accessory for the travel weary.

The stealthy headset has been blessed with something Jabra calls microPOWER technology – more or less a fancy way to say it benefits from extended talk time, achieving 6 hours in total. Jabra products have also become adept at blocking troublesome background noise – the headset’s Noise Blackout dual microphone works well, plus its light frame means it sits comfortably (even after long periods).

It can be picked up for £69 at various online outlets.

How much do you really know about digital currencies?

In a report commissioned by HP, the Ponemon Institute has made a number of interesting finds. Its “Security & Compliance Trends in Innovative Electronic Payments” paper reveals that support for digital currencies and new electronic payment systems are perhaps stronger than originally thought.

Need a primer on digital payments? Watch this very informative video from e-commerce platform PinnacleCart.

Understanding the future of money and mobile payments

New electronic payment systems and virtual currencies are expected to make paper currency the horse and buggy of the 21st century. Are organisations up to the challenge of ensuring security and privacy when businesses and consumers use these payment systems for purchasing items and transferring of funds?

And while 79 per cent of the US organisations that took part in the research plan to adopt digital currencies, a key barrier to the adoption of innovative electronic payments remains. Namely: the issue of security. In terms of new electronic payments, all of the following were cited in respondent’s answers as either currently supported in marketplaces or the not too distant future: payments with a mobile device or use of phone number, e-currency (Bitcoin or other open source P2P money), stored value cards, and bar codes.

The biggest concern seems to be authentication risks with the use of virtual currencies. While new payment models are evolving, but the same security fundamentals for maximum protection in the overall payment process are still needed. The most critical are one-time passwords or tokens, federated identity and authentication systems and multi-factor authentication

There is also the perception that the pressure to quickly migrate to the use of innovative electronic payments is making it difficult to address the security and privacy issues.

A case-in-point: Digital wallets (or e-wallets) are used to hold virtual currency – and high profile names in technology like Google and Apple already have solutions in place to drive the adaption rate. In-fact belief is so strong that almost half (46 per cent) of respondents predict that virtual currencies will overtake paper currencies within the next five years. Perhaps there’s some truth in this… we are increasingly looking to financial institutions and credit card companies to make the inroads needed to take such practices to the next level. They’ll be the ones to create new approaches to the security and privacy of the electronic payment platform. These organisations are closer to the consumer experience with electronic payment systems and might have a greater incentive to innovate and improve both security and privacy.

What do you make of these new virtual payment systems: is more time needed to fully realise the benefits (and drawbacks) of such innovations? 

Would you use a social network that pays you to post?

Tsu (pronounced ‘sue’) is a social network and payment platform that shares up to 90 per cent of its revenues with users. With a $7 million investment behind it (led by Sancus Capital Prive), Tsu has already attracted the gaze of 50 Cent, Timbaland, and NBA’s Carmelo Anthony – but sadly no sign of a Kardashian or Grumpy Cat yet…

Tsu the new social network that pays you to post

What is Tsu?

So by now you’re probably wondering just what is this Tsu that I’m hearing so much about?

It’s a new type of social network (hang on, we’ve heard that one before… ello, Ello?), but this one’s differential lies in its modus operandi. You see, you (the member) own the content you post, not only that but Tsu will pay you for the privilege.

Get paid to use social network(s)

Yup, that’s the jist. While it’s something of an incendiary headline, the New York Times led with “The Social Network That Pays You To Friend”.

The more people looking at your content, the more sales revenue Tsu makes from ads served. If this were Facebook or Twitter any wealth generated would only serve to line their pockets – Tsu will instead give back a slice of the pie.

It’s a ballsy business model that’s for sure.

Tsu Tmi?

Too much information? Tsu also provides detailed analytics to its users, so they can chart follower count, views, likes, and comments on posts made. This is in stark contrast to the news that a researcher from University of Illinois has created a browser plug-in that removes all trace of numbers (or metrics) from Facebook. Why? To show (or perhaps prove) that when not hell-bent on seeking others approval, the quality of posts and comments improved, as did enjoyment levels.

Download Facebook Demetricator

Tsu does move to ban users who spam in order to preserve the community, and that stretches to invites too. Don’t go thinking you can bombard your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn friends with your member short code (required to sign-up and access the community), Tsu wants you to instead nurture ‘meaningful’ relationships through the network proper.

It’s not for me, but it might for Tsu…