Examining the digital transformation juggling act at Novanta

Headquartered in Boston with more than 2,700 employees worldwide, Novanta is an $800 million global supplier of laser photonics, precision motion control, and vision technologies. As CIO, Sarah Betadam, who joined in 2019 as VP of business applications, and then became global CIO in January 2021, is charged with the strategic direction, leadership, and implementation of the company’s digital transformation, juggling several initiatives simultaneously. At the moment, four different digital transformation initiatives are underway in cyber, business intelligence, CRM and ERP systems.

With all this in mind, she and the rest of her team are currently thinking about a three-year plan based on business capabilities, collaboration and data-driven decisions that align with the Novanta company vision to enable growth.

“I have a great team, and we also have a partnership with the business users,” she says. “We are a very fast-paced company, and my team is able to keep pace to make sure we implement things.”

Backing from the tech-based company’s leadership adds further muscle to ensure that transformation initiatives are carried out successfully.

“We also have the leadership across the board really wanting us to make changes,” she says. “That support really helps. Within transformational portfolios, though, we still have to prioritize substantive programs, so they don’t all happen at the same speed. We’re adaptable based on business changes, and from there we can implement.”

CIO Leadership Live host Maryfran Johnson recently interviewed Betadam on the CIO-CEO relationship, nurturing business and IT partnerships that help strengthen the organization, servant leadership, agile methodologies, and more. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On business partnerships: We think of ourselves as digitally focused and an integral business partner with all of the different functions and business units as we move to cloud solutions to best scale Novanta for the future. Cloud strategy is definitely something we’ve been building our ecosystem around. It isn’t easy, but with a lot of collaboration over the last two years with partnerships and going through business capabilities, we’re focusing on pain points and building solutions around them. That’s a key part of our ongoing success, and for future planning. And as we go through different business cases, we’ve partnered with our finance team in order to calculate ROI for the company and how much technology will drive that.  

On agile: It’s about owning the different mindsets. So it’s a growth mindset to think outside the box. Agile isn’t about speed, it’s about how you think about the problem and making sure you have a minimal viable product in order to see if it solves the issue. Then you build on it and pivot. Also, in terms of psychological safety, it’s okay to fail. So it builds that environment about a growth mindset, adapting to different environments and making sure you’re solving a business problem.

On educating the business: You have to do your homework. What we end up doing is spending at least a month or two interviewing different groups and business stakeholders, and then pick the pilot group to move to agile and what that means. So for our BI, we started that about 2019 from mid-level and worked for them to become our advocates and champions. Then you bring the middle management to the higher management, so it was leading by example. I found it really instrumental in changing their minds to see how agile is supposed to work. Another way I did it in previous organizations is you bring in coaches from outside to interview your C-suite. Expert agile coaches interviewing, getting feedback and formulating a plan also helps.

On servant leadership: The pivotal part of a servant leader is building the foundation with the team, making sure there’s a trust foundation within leadership, and then see how that disseminates to the organization. What I tell team members is we need to trust and empower each other. So for me, it’s building empowerment for team members, and for them to be successful, whether they’re with me now or many years later. That gives me the greatest satisfaction. I believe the reason I didn’t experience the Great Resignation was because of building that trust within the team, having open communication and transparency, and making sure we work together in order to accomplish what we want to do. It’s a psychological safety and a way to make sure people understand that you have to walk the talk.

Agile Development, Digital Transformation, Remote Work