The president of our firm and the cybersecurity expert Guillaume Caron discussed issues for SMEs. What should businesses do to protect themselves?

In recent months, the world has witnessed numerous massive supply chain attacks, including some affecting tech giants like SolarWinds, Microsoft and FireEye.

“It’s definitely concerning. These attacks are unprecedented and they’ve had serious consequences for thousands of businesses,” explained Guillaume Caron, president of VARS, our firm’s cybersecurity division. Quebec SMEs and institutions are becoming collateral victims of these massive attacks.

Supply chain attacks

A supply chain attack is a cyberattack that aims to damage a company by exploiting vulnerabilities in its supply chain. The process involves persistent rounds of hacking or infiltration to gain access to an organization’s network.

The hacked company isn’t necessarily the attacker’s ultimate target. In many cases, the supply chain element is simply a gateway. The cybercriminals capitalize on the target’s vulnerabilities to reach a larger network of companies to attack.

“We’re talking about a malicious, orchestrated effort that could affect our clients here in Quebec and across Canada,” said Emilio B. Imbriglio, president and chief executive officer of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

For instance, millions of small businesses rely on SolarWinds and Microsoft products and systems. These businesses were targeted by the same criminal organizations that successfully exploited the vulnerabilities exposed by the massive attacks on the tech giants.

“In Microsoft’s case, there were vulnerabilities in their Exchange email servers. In the last few months, we’ve intervened in a number of large-scale attacks, involving ransomware or other issues, that targeted SMEs around the world and even here in Quebec,” explained Guillaume Caron.

Cyberattacks can have grave repercussions on major corporations and small organizations alike. In addition to financial consequences, there can be damage to the company’s reputation with customers, investors and suppliers. Businesses can also face serious litigation.

The importance of protecting yourself during your digital transformation

The digital transformation process often involves capitalizing on the Internet of Things, with IoT devices used to connect different systems, networks and companies in order to accelerate business processes. This increases the attack surface considerably and makes it harder to protect all vectors. That’s why performing ongoing risk analyses is so important. You want to identify entry points and implement checks and balances like technological tools, business processes, policies, etc.

A Leger study found that the proportion of SMEs that plan on investing in cybersecurity solutions over the next two years fell from 42% in 2019 to just 25% in 2020. However, as Guillaume Caron pointed out, “In 2021, there’s simply no excuse for leaving your company exposed to serious cybersecurity problems.”

Today, there are easily deployable and affordable tools that SMEs can use to protect their business. No matter what industry you operate in, criminals can gain access to your company and then take control, download sensitive data, steal information and more. If your machines stop working, you can’t produce anything. If your workstations are blocked, your employees can’t work. Scenarios like this can have a major impact on the survival prospects of small- or medium-sized businesses.

What can SMEs do to equip themselves?

In today’s reality, it isn’t a matter of if a cyberattack will occur, but when. Companies need to protect themselves and have a concrete action plan outlining what to do when an attack occurs.

Third-party risk has become a pressing issue. Governments, major corporations and SMEs that do business with other organizations can’t afford to put blind faith in their business partners. After all, your company may be entrusting these third parties with critical, sensitive, strategic or secret information, even if they don’t have the same security practices and safeguards in place.

Large institutions often require their suppliers to comply with certain information security standards. That way, if a supply chain attack happens, there aren’t any vulnerabilities between the company and its partners and suppliers.

“SMEs should do the same and require their partners and suppliers to have cybersecurity measures in place. This type of vigilance shouldn’t just be for large institutions and governments,” emphasized Guillaume Caron.

Today, it’s critical for companies to be able to prove that they have proper controls in place. There are established standards that businesses should abide by. You need to be able to demonstrate, with facts, that you’ve developed a strong security culture. Doing so can even become a competitive advantage.

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Jean-François Djoufak
Senior Manager | Tax

AI is a key component of a business’s digital transformation. Do you know what support is available to bring your projects to fruition?

There are various measures and assistance programs available to finance your organization’s artificial intelligence project.

Regardless of its size or activity sector, financing is available for projects that involve the development, integration and commercialization of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

AI is a powerful tool to help organizations increase their productivity, efficiency and competitiveness, particularly through the automation of business processes. This is why our governments have established significant initiatives to accelerate the adoption of AI in business.

Quebec government call for projects

At the end of 2020, the Quebec government introduced a call for AI innovation projects with a $25M envelope. While the program is intended for Quebec businesses in all sectors, it prioritizes SMEs and start-ups and finances projects to develop, commercialize or integrate AI technology.

This year, businesses have until October 15, 2021 to apply.

The program comprises three components:

  • 1. Startup innovation projects, for AI companies less than three years old that receive coaching from a business incubator or accelerator. Maximum assistance of $50,000.
  • 2. SME innovation projects, for SMEs that intend to produce goods and services or carry out in-house research and development (R&D). Maximum assistance of $150,000.
  • 3. Large-scale innovation projects, for business groups that include at least two Quebec companies. This component finances projects that have the potential to generate significant short-term economic benefits. Maximum assistance of $1.5 million per project.

Partenar-IA

The Quebec government supports another call for AI innovation projects, the Partenar-IA Program, that is managed by the nine sectoral industrial research clusters (RSRI). This program comprises two components and focusses on collaboration:

  • 1. Partenar-IA | Enterprise, for groups of businesses that want to carry out an innovation and collaborative R&D project, while being accompanied by a public research centre for part of the project. The businesses must share the costs, benefits and intellectual property of the innovation project. Maximum subsidy equivalent to $150,000 per partner company, and $600,000 per project.
  • 2. Partenar-IA | Academic, for all public research centres and Quebec businesses that want to carry out a project to develop, commercialize or integrate AI technology. Eligible projects must be carried out by public research centres in partnership with at least on Quebec SME or start up. Maximum subsidy of $500,000 per project.

The application must be submitted to your industry segment’s RSRI. The next filing deadline is October 15, 2021.

Scale AI

Scale AI is an artificial intelligence supercluster in Canada. This non-profit consortium of companies, research centres and universities is supported by the governments of Quebec and Canada.

In addition to helping fund training initiatives and business incubators, Scale AI funds industrial projects. The organization reimburses up to 50% of eligible expenses for business projects that target the adoption or commercialization of AI for supply chains.

Projects must have more than one participant, and at least one SME must be a partner. There is no minimum or maximum funding amount.

INVEST-AI

INVEST-AI manages a $35M co-investment program that reimburses up to 50% of the eligible costs of an AI project. The non-refundable contributions are provided once the expenses have been paid.

INVEST-AI financing ranges from $50,000 to $1M based on the project size. At least 30% (preferably 50%) of the required investment must be from the private sector. The business must generate minimum annual sales of $1M.

Other assistance programs

Your business can also take advantage of other financial assistance programs for its AI project. Here are the main ones:

  • Investissement Québec’s Innovation Program, which offers non-refundable contributions for innovation projects and commercialization. The maximum assistance ranges between 30% and 50% of eligible expenses, depending on the type of project.
  • Investissement Québec’s PME en action – SME Productivity Support, which provides support for certain projects to implement business practices that generate productivity gains. The maximum subsidy is 40% of eligible project expenses, to a maximum of $50,000.
  • ESSOR – Investment Project Support, from Investissement Québec and the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation, which offers various types of assistance. Eligible expenses must be at least $100,000 or $250,000, depending on the type of project.
  • National Research Council of Canada’s Financial support for technology innovation through NRC IRAP, which subsidizes innovation projects to develop new or improved products, services or processes.
  • Programme NovaScience, from the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation, with various support measures to promote a scientific and innovation culture, in particular with SMEs, and train and integrate a qualified workforce. The various programs are expected to be extended in 2021-2022.

When planning your artificial intelligence project and anticipating its costs and financing, remember to consider SR&ED credits and government tax incentives. Read our article on this topic.

You could also qualify for other types of financing for SMEs or all of your digital transformation projects.

Call on our team to help you set up your artificial intelligence project and benefit from the advice of our experts. They are committed to the success of our local businesses and will be happy to help you achieve your goals.

09 Jun 2021  |  Written by :

Jean-François Djoufak is a tax expert at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. Contact him today.

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Denis Brisebois
Vice President | Tourism-Leisure-Culture | Management consulting

The tourism sector has been hard hit by the pandemic and the next few months will inevitably bring challenges and transformation.

As with any major crisis in any sector, the key to a successful, rapid and sustainable recovery is the industry’s or business’s ability to seize new opportunities.

Asses repercussions

Before delving into the heart of the matter, let’s look at a few statistics to measure the repercussions of the pandemic on Quebec tourism and to show the importance of taking action:

  • 400,000 people laid off, including the restaurant sector;
  • $2.6B in lost revenue due to the absence of foreign travellers in 2020;
  • $1B in lost hotel rental income in Montréal and Québec City;
  • 9.8% occupancy in downtown Montréal hotels in July 2020 compared to 83.5% in July 2019.

Transportation, events, conventions and restaurants were the most affected, with the impact being greater in urban areas.

Nevertheless, some sectors fared a little better: for example, campgrounds, where the average occupancy rate increased by 10.1% during the 2020 summer season, and sectors with a focus on outdoor activities, like agri-tourism, golf, hunting, fishing, and large parks.

Analyze positioning

To better understand the positioning of tourism businesses in the crisis and their internal capacity to recover, we have developed a two-axis analysis matrix:

  1. Entity’s key abilities;
  2. Entity’s key environment-related factors.

1- The five key business abilities to emerge from the crisis are:

  • Financial and organizational health;
  • Management team and board of directors;
  • Relationship with business partners;
  • Digital capability;
  • Development vision.

2- The three key environment-related factors that define the crisis and the recovery are:

  • Urban or rural location;
  • Group or individual consumption;
  • Clientele from outside or inside Quebec; younger or older clientele.

Analyzing these conditions determines the organization’s position in terms of its ability to recover and the type of strategy to be implemented.

Identify main challenges

Two areas will be put to the test:

Human and operational resources

1- Offsetting the workforce shortage

The industry is facing a severe workforce shortage. The sector’s vulnerability is causing many employees to change careers and consequently, businesses are losing expertise. As a result, they will have to turn to a range of new solutions for recruiting and retaining workers.

Internally, pooling functions should not be overlooked. The versatility of roles within the organization is a must to get through this crisis period, as is mobilizing the team.

2- Accelerating digital transformation to improve productivity

The tourism sector was lagging behind in terms of digital transformation. The pandemic has exposed the need for organizations to accelerate this transformation in order to adapt to users’ new needs and improve their productivity.

Financial component

As for the financial aspect, the financial assistance measures introduced since the beginning of the crisis have made it possible for many businesses to survive. There have been fewer closures than initially estimated.

However, it has been a long pandemic that has significantly impacted organization’s finances. Discussions with bankers, investors and business partners make it possible for entities to find new options to keep their business afloat.

Choose a tailored solution

Having stabilized and kept the business afloat over the past year, management must now chart a new course for recovery. There are several options:

  • Diversify and foster the growth of new or traditional activities;
  • Refocus activities on the essentials and restore profitability;
  • Transform or reinvent the business;
  • Or even sell, to get the maximum value for the business.

No matter what direction organizations take, they will need a healthy dose of courage and conviction. Efficient management will be critical. You will need to be agile, creative and equip themselves with the necessary tools and skills to help the organization adapt to the new reality.

This unprecedented crisis will trigger significant changes in the tourism sector, and while some businesses may not recover, others will emerge stronger. There are real opportunities to be discovered or even triggered between now and the full re-launch of operations. One thing is certain, the industry will evolve more sustainably and will recover its vitality in the years to come.

Our tourism, recreation and culture team is committed to the success of organizations and keeps abreast of evolving issues in this sector. Our experts are there to guide and support you in analyzing your needs, accessing available financial measures and providing relevant solutions for your business.

08 Jun 2021  |  Written by :

Denis Brisebois is a management consulting expert and leader in tourism, leisure and culture....

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The Grant Thornton International IFRS team has published the 2021 version of its IFRS Example Interim Consolidated Financial Statements.

The IFRS Example interim consolidated financial statements 2021 have been reviewed and updated to reflect changes in IAS 34 Interim Financial Reporting and in other IFRS that are effective for the year ending December 31, 2021 and that have been issued prior to April 30, 2021.

In addition, given that the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact many reporting entities that exist, the 2021 interim version provides comments on information that might be relevant to disclose around the COVID-19 in the interim financial statements.