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Category Archives: Strategic Transformation

Technological Evolution Creates a New Breed of CIOs

By Ralph Stauffer, MSSBTA Consulting Manager, January 2021

Evolution is an often misunderstood concept.  Our elementary vision of it is of fish growing legs, crawling out of the muck as alligators turning into rodents then monkeys then apes and finally something resembling people.  Of course, this is not how it works. In fact, evolution is quite complex. On one hand, it requires billions of mutations spread over millions of organisms. Many failures die out while others stick and eventually the whole system reaches a tipping point leading to a great evolutionary leap. On the other hand, drastic environmental changes can lead to significant mutations within a few generations. Both types of evolution are relevant when looking at digital transformational and the role of the CIO.

How Technological Evolution Happens

Technological evolution follows similar patterns as biological.  Much of it happens as a result of millions of small innovative changes that take place before the next technological era occurs.  Take for example, the transition between the agrarian age to the industrial age.  Many innovations, discoveries and failures were made over hundreds of years until they culminated into the technologies that enabled mass production. This similar process has been taking place over several decades culminating in the digital age.

Just some examples of current technological “mutations” include:

  • Blockchain – Distributed electronic transactions,
  • Drones – Unmanned autonomous vehicles,
  • Internet of Things (IoT) – Any device connected and exchanging information over the Internet,
  • Robots – Virtual agents assisting humans,
  • 3D Printing – Manufacturing techniques used to create three-dimensional objects,
  • Virtual Reality – Simulated images that viewers can realistically interact,
  • Augmented Reality – Virtual reality overlaid on the physical world, and
  • Artificial Intelligence – Automating human intelligence

Any of the above can be considered a major advancement in applied technology, but we happen to exist in a time when they are all maturing into useful applications simultaneously and being used to transform entire industries. It is from this aggregated development and maturity that we will likely see the next great leap as these new technologies come together to create the next tipping point.

One specific example of how this works is Jaguar’s augmented reality windscreens.  You may have heard of heads up displays (HUD) for fighter jets. Essentially, it is a transparent display that presents data in a view that allows the pilot to see the information and the viewpoints beyond.  Well, Jaguar is also applying this technology to their automobiles.  The HUD highlights obstacles in red, yellow, or green to indicate their distance.  It allows the driver to see through the sides of the car so they appear to be fully transparent.  It can even project a “ghost car” that the driver can simply follow instead of listening or looking down to a navigation device.  Meanwhile, Tesla, Google, and Uber are taking it to the next level by producing cars that can autopilot or don’t even need a driver in the car.  These changes are literally transforming the automotive industry.

As the bridges between accessibility, artificial intelligence, and automation closes, organizations move faster and faster and bring us closer to the evolutionary tipping point.  One day, in the future, we will be able to clearly identify the “mutations” that enabled the leap to occur like the ape tossing the bone in 2001 a Space Odyssey (that, when tossed, turned into a satellite), but in the midst of the process, the specific contributions are difficult to foresee. We just know it is coming.

How Must CIOs Adapt?

For the CIO this presents a challenge. The CIO has to evolve as well, but in the way that responds rapidly to the new environment. There are so many possibilities and opportunities, yet the outcome is uncertain. So, how do you know what strategies to pursue and when to pursue them? How do you know what capabilities to build when you are not certain of the requirements?

While the final evolution of the CIO’s role in technological evolution is uncertain, there are several steps that one can take to be to be prepared for the environment:

The Business Strategist – The CIO has a new role in leading business initiatives rather than just the technology applications.  The focus of the CIO is changing from that of controlling IT spend to meeting and managing business outcomes.  You need to review your strategic planning from a Business-IT alignment point of view, establish a clear vision based on business objectives, and develop an agile execution approach.  Moving faster only helps if you are moving in the right direction.  Otherwise, you might find yourself in Death Valley when you were trying to get to Yellowstone.

The Change Leader – CIO’s are often responding to or causing change. But you also need to be a change leader which means becoming a visible and active advocate communicating the purpose of change and the expected results to the employees and stakeholders. A CIO cannot afford to be an introvert. You need to engage and interact face to face with all constituents.  This will enable you to accelerate change when necessary and keep the organization engaged.

The Framework Architect – Volatility and uncertainty mean that the CIO also needs to develop an ecosystem and structure that is flexible and adaptable to variation.  This goes against the grain of traditional, hierarchical command and control approaches into more organic structures where team members are embedded into the organization they serve, collecting intelligence and testing innovations. This way when one or more components changes the ecosystem to adapt. Just like a smart phone can incorporate different apps within a single framework.

The Bimodal Manager – A CIO needs to have an innate ability to manage both stability and innovation at the same time.  This might be accomplished with separate teams each focused on either stability or innovation, or separate projects with a different focus but using the same resources.  The key is both stability and innovation need to co-exist throughout technological evolution.

The Keeper of Data – After all of the strategy discussions, where the rubber meets the road is with your data.  No matter where your ever-changing path leads you, your data needs to be there with you.  Now, where it is stored, how it is stored, and how it is retrieved may all change, but in the end you will always need quality data (customers, products, clients, staff, etc.).   Your data needs to be in an agile environment and available so the business can respond to an ever-changing market.  Yes, if you don’t already have a BI tool you could go out and get one, but you need to be thinking large scale.  In order to evolve you need to think not just outside of the box, but outside of all existing boundaries.

The Chief Security Officer – Protecting data extends to ensuring that the data you keep it safe from intrusion. This is more and more a challenge as there are more entry points and methods available for those who want to benefit from your data or just want to disrupt the world. You must be on top of these methods but also build systems that adapt and advance faster than those with bad intentions can think.

As technological evolution happens through the trial-and-error method until the tipping point is reached, the CIO needs to evolve by being responsive to the environment over a short period.  Fast, flexible, and fluid are all traits that are import, as is being the sponsor of change. In the end, when we look back we will see that it was the CIO with the combination of great leadership skills and promoting innovative change that really led us all into the next digital age.

Technology Investments are Missing from Your IT Strategy

Strategic planning enables an organization to determine how its vision and objectives will be met through its resources and capabilities. Ultimately, the goal of strategic planning and road mapping is to determine how the business will win, what capabilities are needed and how the leadership will prioritize initiatives and make technology investments.

Look for these 3 warning signs that your IT strategy is lacking technology investments for future success:

1. You are not seeing your IT strategy as a competitive advantage.

Your IT strategy is no longer just a tool for back office operations, it is a key enabler to your business growth strategy and core to creating your competitive advantage. With today’s environment of rapid and exponential change, a well-defined, business-owned, adaptive strategy is what will enable your organization to stay ahead of disruption and win in the market. Many companies are struggling to balance emerging technologies, their technology investments, and rapidly changing business needs meaning systems such as ERP, CRM, etc. must be flexible and agile to support increasingly dynamic requirements as digital business models evolve.

2. You don’t understand the impact emerging technology investments can have on your immediate future.

There is a tsunami coming in advanced technology and innovation for business in the next few years. Emerging technologies like Internet of Things/Edge, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, 5G, microservice, micro satellites, robotics and automation, and many others are simultaneously maturing into practical applications. While their individual impact on business operations is hard to measure, what is clear is that their convergence will accelerate change and disruption at levels yet unseen. If you are not adapting your infrastructure strategies to prepare for this rapid change you are already behind.

3. Your leadership does not have the skills necessary to take on the digital future.

Leaders of technology now have to be strategic business thinkers. They have to demonstrate the ability to integrate Information and Technology (I&T) operating models from IT-centric to business-centric and define core I&T capabilities to execute to business strategy. They must be able to anticipate how key technological trends will translate into business opportunity and success. For example: Does your Information and Technology investments strategy consider the business capabilities offered by artificial intelligence? AI opens up a new frontier for digital business because virtually every application or service incorporates intelligence to automate or augment application processes and human activities. If your plans are not incorporating this type of thinking, if your leaders are not anticipating change, or if your leaders are not identifying business opportunities; you may want to consider skilling up your team.


Your digital transformation begins with a digital strategy and technology roadmap. Here are some resources to help you start on your journey:

The Evolution of Digital Transformation and the CIO
Your Digital Future Begins Now
Requirements for a Successful Digital Transformation Strategy


A digital transformation is a long and complex journey – one you shouldn’t start alone because it is fraught with hazards that can detour your business or bring it to a halt. At MSS, we work with our customers to develop a digital transformation strategy based on their unique needs. The strategy will include a shared vision and a leadership roadmap to give them a competitive advantage, prepare for emerging technologies, and recognize the skills needed to be ready for the digital future.

Surviving the Transformation Death Zone

By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer

I have always been fascinated by the sport of mountain climbing. Recently, I was watching a movie on climbing Mt. Everest in which they described the Death Zone – the region above 26,000 feet where a climber’s body starts to die. They had my attention.

At 8,000 meters (26k ft.) and above, the atmospheric pressure is about a third of what it is at sea level. As a result, the body gets significantly less oxygen and the cells in the body literally begin to die leading to extreme lethargy and poor decisions. The effect of this process is that it takes most climbers up to 12 hours to walk 1.7 kilometers (1.07mi) to the summit. Many of the climbers who meet their end in the Death Zone simply sit down to take a rest.

If you’re thinking that perhaps one can summit more quickly, understand that a person taken directly from sea level to the top of Mt. Everest would die within 2-3 minutes; hence the establishment and requirement of base camps. The mind and body require periodic respites to both recover and reassess the readiness to move on to the next stage of the climb.

Add to this the other dangers of climbing at this altitude such as high winds, sudden changes in weather, altitude sickness, extreme cold, avalanches and falling ice towers the size of skyscrapers, and we can see the danger of taking on this challenge.

Over 50% of climber deaths occur in the Death Zone.

While it is not clear how many bodies are on Mt. Everest, it is estimated to be over 200. They are there forever so those who set out always have in their peripheral vision the reminder of those who did not make it.

According to many professional climbers, I talked to, the primary reasons someone does not survive the Death Zone include:

  • Improper physical preparation;
  • Poor psychological preparation;
  • A lack of proper climbing skills or knowledge of the mountain; or
  • Improper acclimatization

In other words, many of the deaths that occur on the mountain are preventable with the right preparation. But, inevitability, there are those climbers who fail to assess their readiness and manage their climb.

As part of an organization that focuses on Business Transformation, I draw many lessons from this example.

Business Transformation is one of the hardest things that a leader can do in their career. Whether it is a strategic change, a major operational upgrade, a company reorganization, or all three simultaneously; many leaders will have to take on such a business transformation at least once in their careers. What they may not realize is that there is a Death Zone in this type of effort as well.

Surviving the Death Zone in Business Transformation occurs during a period after the transformation has begun. Issues start to arise, fatigue starts to set in and people are frustrated. It’s when even you, as a CEO or CIO or COO, believe it has become “too hard”, and you question why you set out on this journey in the first place. Your employees are complaining, there are too many people to retrain, or you fear the business transformation can affect client relationships and open the door for competitors. Perhaps, it will take too long and cause too much attrition, it requires a large investment that raises the risk. It’s just too complicated to get through.

Surviving the business transformational Death Zone means getting through this period, showing perseverance and ensuring that people remember that this effort will reap rewards in the longer term.

How can you successfully survive the Death Zone during your Business Transformation? Some key steps include:

  • Prepare for the Journey
    • Have you planned for every stage of the organizational transformation?
    • Is your organization aligned with the new operational model?
    • Have you identified the new business processes and the job-specific changes that your staff will need to embrace?
    • Have you identified the capabilities that your staff will need to perform in the future state?
    • Do you have the subject matter experts selected and prepared for the transition?
  • Build Your Knowledge to Survive Transformation
    • Are the business drivers and the need for change clearly understood by all those who will be impacted?
    • Are your people trained and ready?
    • Are you meeting your transformation stage goals?
  • Get Fit
    • Does the organization have the stamina for the transition?
    • Do you have active and engaged team members driving the change?
    • Are the capabilities of your staff at the level needed to perform in the future state?
    • Is fatigue setting in? If so, what can be done to re-energize the team?
  • Assess Your Progress
    • Is the pace of the business transformation doable?
    • Have you established and stopped at the necessary checkpoints?
    • Are corrective actions needed to bring you back on track?
  • Find the Right Guide (“Sherpa”) to Survive Transformation
    • Do you have the necessary support to help guide you through your organizational transformation?
    • Are there skills needed that you don’t have the time or resources to supply?
    • Does your guide know the way? Has he been there and back?
    • Are company cultural sensitivities being taken into consideration?

Business transformation failures are preventable. As an executive who is responsible for the success of your company and its transformation objectives, don’t ignore the Death Zone. It exists and the risks are high. No matter how clear the vision, how impressive the business case, the path to success will be long and full of challenges. Preparation, knowledge, fitness, progress assessment and guidance will each play an important part to reach your own transformational summit, survive transformation, and embrace a new normalcy thereafter.


Podcast – Cyber Security: Not a Technology Issue – A Transformational Business Strategy

Airing on December 5, 2017, this podcast provides C-level perspective on building a transformational cyber security strategy that creates value for the organization while protecting its most valuable – nonhuman – asset; its data. Our expert panelists address the ubiquitous nature of the cyber security issue, how to set and achieve expectations from your cyber security strategy, what to expect from a Chief Information Security Officer, and how cyber security adds value in business terms.

Dr. Roméo Farinacci is a senior security consultant with Terra Verde Services, specializing in security program development, risk management, security architectures, and risk assessments. He brings over 20 years dedicated IT/Security experience and 5 years consultation of complex enterprise infrastructures in public, private, and government sectors. Roméo’s passion in cyber security enables him to effectively develop and communicate change strategies for improving the security posture of organizations. His education portfolio includes a Doctorate in Management with an emphasis in Information Systems Technology, an MBA in International Business and an MS in Information Technology. He also has the following professional certifications: CISSP, CISM, PMP, GSLC, and Six Sigma Green Belt / Lean.

Kim L. Jones is a 31-year intelligence, security, and risk management professional with expertise in information security strategy; governance & compliance; security operations; and risk management. Professor Jones is a former Chief Security Officer who has built, operated, and/or managed information security programs within the financial services, defense, healthcare, manufacturing, and business outsourcing industries. Jones holds a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a Masters Degree in Information Assurance from Norwich University.  He also holds the CISM and CISSP certifications.

Download the podcast

10 Ways Leaders Can Sabotage Their Own Transformation Programs

By David William Lee, Change Management Expert and Contributing Writer


One of the hardest things to manage when working with clients on transformation efforts is that the people who hire you are often the root cause of why it is so difficult.

“If we don’t change, our business will continue to decline, but our people resist,” or “We are facing a disruption and we need to change, but our culture does not permit it,” or “Our people are not inclined to change, so you will have to teach them that it is necessary.”

These types of statements are fairly common in first interviews with potential clients when they are frustrated that they are trying to make change but have not succeeded. I am now very wary of these viewpoints. More often, the truth is just the opposite.

When I hear this from a leader, the question I pose is, “What are YOU prepared to do?” This will come as a shock because they think they are change makers. They feel they have been doing all they can to drive change and are up against insurmountable odds. Why will they need to do more? But, in fact, there are several ways that leaders encumber change and, dare I say it, cause it to fail.

In a not uncommon example, I was brought into a company where the leader stated from the get-go that she believed their model had about five years of lifespan remaining. The company’s position in the value chain was threatened by cost pressures and disruptive technology, and they needed to explore new territories, structures, and models to survive. The leader specifically wanted a new strategy and new direction. She warned me though, that the people had a static mentality and were unable or unwilling to operate outside their comfort zone. I was going to have to train them and drive them to change. This situation was very exciting to my naïve self. I would have a real chance to make a difference working directly with the CEO, but I now see so many red flags in this conversation. If I had the same conversation today, I would spend many more meetings quizzing the CEO on her strengths and weaknesses, her capabilities as a leader, and her inclinations to be an effective change leader.

Over the course of the next few years, I worked with the managers in the company on multiple proposals and approaches to the organization. I found that most of the people in the organization were not only willing to try new things, they had a pretty strong idea of what needed to be done. While there was much trepidation because they had been successful doing the same things for 30+ years, there was also passion for the business and willingness to explore new ideas.

The real problem came down to the CEO herself. Her capability to make decisions or embrace those of her leadership, the ability to trust others, and the fortitude to hold the course were all lacking. Given choices, she would consistently call for more analysis pushing choices out months if not years. Faced with the least amount of resistance or a road bump, she would revert to what she felt had been successful in the past. Put into a situation of investing in the business or harvesting through cost reduction and layoffs, she chose the latter.

Moreover, she was not willing to be the sponsor of transformation, often pushing that responsibility onto a junior member of the executive team, giving herself the opportunity to separate herself from the results. Challenged by staff, she would often not only fail to support the change, but undermine it. Finally, while there was a preponderance of communication, the focus was often wrong. She concentrated on why it was good for the organization without driving it to what was the benefit for the people. In this particular organization, this was a death knell because the trust between the central organization and the field was a major weakness.

Eventually, we were able to get to the point of driving some incremental changes, but we never achieved the level of transformation necessary to secure the organization for the future and, worse, the culture that was left behind was more inclined to resist future change due to this history. The energy it took exhausted everyone involved, spoiled the working environment, and resulted in a huge turnover rate of the team members who favored transformation.

Some might read this and question, “But as the transformation manager, wasn’t it your responsibility to coach the leader? Aren’t the leader’s failures yours as well?” To this I would agree wholeheartedly. I learned as much from these types of experiences about leading transformational change as from the experiences that were successful. I believe it has made me a much better advisor in that I have the scars. It is very clear that the difference between success and failure almost always starts with the leadership approach. As a result, I better understand the behaviors of those who are prepared and those who may actually sabotage their own efforts. I no longer mince words or guard them from the truth of their own behavior and I insist on direct access and transparency.

So, I thought I would share some of the caveats for leaders – the things I have learned to test for in interviews or in the early stages of a program. Of course, these are not MECE (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive) examples. Many are interrelated and some may even be, seemingly, contradictory as they are drawn by multiple examples.

1. Unwillingness to Transformation Themselves
In a Harvard Business Review Article (Oct 2016), Ron Carucci says:

A leader’s ability to affect transformation across the organization depends on their ability to affect transformation within themselves. Accepting this will fundamentally shift how one leads. Such introspection is an active process.

This is absolutely the top criteria. What has worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future. This is especially true if the organization is experiencing high growth or disruption. The approach to leadership will require a transformation. If the leadership is not willing to look within themselves, if they fail to see that they need to change and be the champion of change, they are likely to create barriers to transformation.

2. Lack of Vision
So many times as an advisor, I have walked into situations where the transformation process is underway but the vision of the future state is unknown or merely a compilation of ideas. To a degree this is OK. We want to leave room for adaptation and experimentation along the way, particularly in complex environments. But, if the leader is unable to formulate and communicate a vision of the future state, how would they be able to make choices or expect anyone else to be on board and be supportive of the transformation? It is the difference between setting a course to the new world and adjusting to the currents to get you there and just randomly navigating without a destination in mind. Many leaders are not visionaries and often reacting to other influences (competition, new technologies, shareholder demands, etc.) but transformation requires a vision of a better future to build momentum and make decisions. I even advocate that the vision can be one that is intentionally hazy if the future is uncertain, but this needs to be a strategy, not a default position.

3. Treating Transformation as a Second Job
When I do transformation management workshops, I am often asked, “How can the leader be expected to do all of this AND get their job done?” My response is “What is their other job?” The leader’s role is to move the organization into the future state. If someone feels that doing this is secondary to their “real role,” they need to wake up or abdicate. As a shareholder, employee or partner, I would be concerned if the organization leader is so into the daily operations and firefighting that they don’t feel that driving transformation is their primary and, really, only role.

4. Not Understanding Individual Change
“They will do it because it is their job!” This is a common phrase from a leader with a command and control mentality. It is a lazy comment and shows a complete lack of understanding of why and how people and organizations change. Change happens at the individual level. The leader’s role is to get everyone pointed in the same direction. If they feel this will happen without understanding the “why?” of the situation or how they will benefit from the change, the leader has already created a wall of resistance that will be tough get over.

5. Failure to Support the Change
A death knell to any change is when the leader is faced with resistance and is unwilling to support the direction of the change. This is not to say that they should combat resistance on all levels. They need to get feedback and adapt. But ultimately the intention needs to be moving forward and if they cave or undermine the decisions once the course is determined, they might as well end the effort there. Incorporating feedback while keeping the course is an art that is central to leading transformation. Further, if the leader is seen not abiding by their own decisions, walking the walk, then they are undermining the change in a different way. Leaders cannot be above the change they are sponsoring.

Download 10 Ways to Sabotage Your Transformation and How to Avoid Doing Them

6. Delegating Responsibility
Prosci, the transformation management training and research organization, states that the #1 success factor for transformation is active and visible sponsorship, but that the majority of the time sponsors are either unaware or unwilling to perform as necessary. I have seen this close up. For whatever reason, leaders want to delegate their responsibility to others. Perhaps they don’t feel the need to be out in front, perhaps they are introverts and find it difficult to interact, or perhaps, more nefariously, they want to distance themselves in case of failure. Whatever the case, many ‘leaders’ are happy to just set the goals (often arbitrarily or unreasonably), and then expect it to happen. From this point, they push and push their teams, who fail to achieve results and then point to them. I have witnessed many a tirade at corporate meetings where the CEO is ranting about their team’s failure to execute without any real involvement on their side. This is different, by the way, than distributing decision making, which is a must.

7. Analysis, Analysis, Analysis
Planning for transformation is necessary. Good planning can accelerate the process if it is the right type – creating the vision, focusing communications and awareness, understanding the transformation and impact to stakeholders, creating ways of developing feedback, and incorporating adaptive and agile approaches, etc. More often though, planning is focused on finding the one answer, the silver bullet, or the right mountain to climb. This will happen behind closed doors with a few people looking at charts and data and holding long meetings talking about running more models and analyzing every aspect of the transformation. When this is going on it is an indication that they don’t have a proper vision and are actually looking for reason not to change.

8. Centralizing Authority
Driving transformation across an organization requires all individuals in the organization to be able to affect transformation. Leaders with a strong command and control complex have a difficult time understanding this. They will feel it is the responsibility of the people and stakeholders to bow to their authority. But real transformation requires authority to be distributed. Organizations are not machines where we are simply changing out parts. We are dealing with individuals and their emotions and this means that managers, supervisors, and colleagues need to have the information, connectedness, and authority to help coach each other. Moreover, they will need to deal with an untold number of issues, challenges, and opportunities that the central authority will never be able to anticipate in their plans. Insisting on a centralized approach shows mistrust of the people and an inability to provide the information necessary to make the transformation valid. Leadership creates the framework and provides the tools for change, then enables the people to change.

9. “Need to Know” Communications
The biggest red flag in my book is the leader who feels that information is so precious that their people cannot be trusted to learn of it. This is signified by a reluctance to communicate openly whether in group settings or face-to-face. They fear that if the people impacted by the transformation knew about the details, they would create barriers or resist, making life difficult. But what does this tell us? This says that either the leader does not trust their people, or they expect resistance because the transformation is not going to benefit the people impacted. Either way, there is a problem here. Leadership is unwilling to involve the people impacted in a transformation that clearly is important enough for them to react strongly, and they don’t want their people’s feedback. Either the environment of the organization is pretty toxic and/or the transformation is highly flawed (both are big issues).

10. Knee Jerk Reversion
Related to all the above, but hardest to test, is a leader’s willingness to revert to past models and behaviors when faced with challenges. This shows a lack of confidence in themselves and the transformation and points to other issues of character. One way to anticipate this are the issues of delegation of responsibility and failure to support the change discussed above. The leader may be setting up scapegoats, or at the very least, trying to leave the door open. One of my favorite lines from a movie was from Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) in Hunt for the Red October when he said, “When he reached the New World, Cortes burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated.” While this is a bit harsh (and historically questionable), it shows great confidence in the endeavor. Too many leaders fold at the first sign of trouble, reverting to old behaviors when, in fact, the rest of the organization believed in the course. Fortitude and courage go right along with empathy and flexibility in my humble opinion.

This seems like a lot to think about when looking at taking on a transformation program. As a consultant/advisor or as the leader of transformation, you only need to ask one question though, “What are YOU prepared to do?” If the answer does not include:

  1. Start with changing myself
  2. Have a strong vision to communicate
  3. Treat the transformation as your primary/only role
  4. Understand how change is individual
  5. Support the change when faced with challenges
  6. Be visible and responsible for the transformation
  7. Take action without full information
  8. Distribute authority
  9. Be transparent and communicative, and
  10. Hold fast through challenges

…then you are likely already behind the eight ball and have some work to do.