Belfast Telegraph

Japanese firm's Northern Ireland base to find new uses for technology

By Margaret Canning

The Belfast software centre of a Japanese company is involved in finding new uses for blockchain, an event has heard.

On day two of tech gathering Digital DNA in Belfast, Fergal Downey and Marty Bell of Rakuten Blockchain Lab described how its Belfast centre — which opened this year — is growing.

It employs 10 people but is to double its workforce next year, revealed Mr Downey, the company’s vice-president of engineering.

And Mr Bell, the lab’s principal software architect, said there had been a number of new uses of blockchain which the centre had been exploring.

It’s the technology that underpins emerging digital, virtual or crypto-currencies such as bitcoin. It’s made up of blocks that hold time-stamped batches of recent transactions which form a chain, with each block reinforcing those preceding it.

And the security around blockchain is intended to allow data to be shared completely safely.

In Denmark, research has been carried out on adapting blockchain for use in car records, and for the digitalisation of ship registration.

Mr Downey and Mr Bell were taking part in a discussion hosted by recruitment firm MCS Group in the fintech and security studio at Digital DNA. 

But Mr Downey said he did not believe bitcoin would become a mainstream currency.  “Consumers are better protected by using bank cards and other payments rather than bitcoin.”

The fintech studio at Digital DNA, which closed yesterday, also heard from Deloitte director Lory Kehoe. The business advisory firm has a centre in Dublin for developing blockchain. He described how blockchain could be adapted for ‘know your customer’ (KYC) processes such as providing identification to open bank accounts.

Identification could be provided once through a particular form of identification to the blockchain and verified by a trusted third party — and wouldn’t needed to be produced again.  Mr Kehoe revealed that a client of Deloitte would ‘go live’ with blockchain technology at the end of August.

Meanwhile, Shirley Finnerty, the Microsoft Ireland Windows and Devices Business Lead, discussed how companies should be readying themselves for the introduction of the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation on May 25 next year.

The regulation imposes stringent requirements on companies and how they deal with data, and can impose fines of up to €20m, or 4% of global turnover, for breaches.

There is also a strict requirement on companies to audit their data trail, and to report any breaches within 72 hours.

But she said companies should not fear the change but treat it as an opportunity. “Businesses shouldn’t think of it as a tax as there is a positive side to all of this... data really is the oil of the second industrial revolution,” she said.

Delegates asked Ms Finnerty if the UK’s exit from the EU would affect GDPR. She said it was having no bearing on Microsoft’s preparations.

And another delegate pointed out that compliance would still be required, as the GDPR applies to all those who do business with entities or individuals in the EU.

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