Warning as Northern Ireland manufacturers 'not ready for data change'
Just one out of 20 Northern Ireland manufacturing firms are prepared for major changes to data protection laws - risking huge fines.
That's according to a new survey from Manufacturing NI, which shows that 5% of its members are "aware of and are taking steps" to prepare for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws, which come into effect in May next year.
It is warning that companies that fail to comply with the changes will face fines amounting to 4% of total turnover.
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "The only upside to the findings is that our members still have time to prepare their business for these forthcoming changes to data protection law.
"Though, undoubtedly, this alarming statistic should act as a source of concern for the whole business community in Northern Ireland.
"We will be urging all of our members to seek training and advice on what is proving to be a huge shift in how businesses store everyday items of data like phone numbers and email addresses.
"In what is already a financially challenging working environment, our firms simply cannot afford to suffer fines of this magnitude."
The laws cover a range of areas, including how a business or organisation holds, stores or processes information about staff and customers.
And Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said that there is a "real lack of awareness about this issue across our sector".
Barrister Orlagh Kelly said the "clock is ticking for businesses in Northern Ireland, and, unfortunately, turning a blind eye will not work from May 2018 onwards". "GDPR is the widest-ranging amendment to data protection law in the UK in 20 years," she said.
"Brexit will not provide an exemption - data protection will be one area of law that will remain unaffected by the UK's departure, as any entity that trades in the European Union will be required to comply with GDPR."