Nimbus boss Gareth McAlister: Brexit's impact on IT security 'could drive business out of Northern Ireland'
The boss of a Northern Ireland technology company has revealed he has concerns over cyber-security in the event of a Brexit.
Gareth McAlister, managing director of Nimbus, also warned that big firms could look elsewhere to create new jobs.
The Nimbus chief claimed that closing the single market could lead to a severe shortage of talent in the technology sector.
And he warned that data protection legislation, which stems from EU law, would have to be redrawn from scratch if the UK votes to leave the EU.
"I think, in terms of data protection, the UK is going to have to put some sort of data protection in place," Mr McAlister said. "If they break away, they will have to develop their own (legislation), or replicate it.
"If it doesn't follow suit and take on board the EU laws, it will have to come up with its own. But for the time being, data protection in the UK will not be as robust. It will be a grey area. It may scare people, especially the big multi-nationals.
Nimbus provides a range of IT services, including assistance and data systems for a plethora of global companies.
The business, which has offices in Belfast and Dublin, doubled its turnover year-on-year in its last results, and now employs 15 staff.
Mr McAlister said the growth was down to winning cross-border and UK contracts. Nimbus counts a number of well-known businesses as clients, including Titanic Belfast.
Last month it landed a two-year deal to deliver IT systems for customer service, back office administration and IT facilities at the visitor attraction, as well as the Nomadic and Titanic Exhibition Centre.
But despite the good news for his company, Mr McAlister said he feared a Brexit would lead to a shortage of workers.
"Northern Ireland is already crying out for good, qualified staff," he added. "The UK and Northern Ireland are trying to compete globally on tech, and there is a huge shortage of talent currently. If a Brexit were to happen, it would be a big problem.
"The engineers on the UK tech side are being paid £50,000 to £60,000, and that's across Europe. The likes of US companies are buying into Europe, into the UK, because they know the talent is there. If it isn't there after a Brexit, where does that leave the UK?"
And speaking about his own business, he claimed leaving the EU would be bad news down the line. "We are not trading outside the UK and Ireland at the moment, maybe in the next couple of years," Mr McAlister said.
"If we were to win a contract - for example one customer who has sites all over the world, but we look after their Belfast offer - if they asked us to maintain other sites, I would worry how reluctant they would be to host their data if we were outside the EU."
Last month a range of industry experts, including the former managing director of Allstate in Northern Ireland, Bro McFerran, warned some of the world's biggest companies could leave the region in the event of a Brexit.
There are serious concerns that major international companies - which have been attracted here by millions of pounds in EU funding - could be poached by the Republic if the public votes to leave in the forthcoming vote.
Bro McFerran said there was "very definitely" a risk of firms withdrawing from Great Britain and Northern Ireland.