How Novanta’s CIO mobilized its data-driven transformation

With headquarters in Boston and over 2,700 employees worldwide, Novanta is an $800 million global supplier of laser photonics, precision motion control, and vision technologies. CIO Sarah Betadam, who joined in 2019 as VP of business applications, and then became global CIO in January 2021, is tasked with the strategic direction, leadership, and implementation of the company’s digital transformation, juggling several initiatives simultaneously, many of which surround efforts to become a fully functional data-driven enterprise.

“My team and I are very proud of our transformation that started in 2019,” she says. “When I joined, there was a lot of silo data everywhere throughout the organization, and everyone was doing their own reporting. So in monthly or quarterly combined meetings, there weren’t apples to apples being compared. It was also a lot of churning for the different groups to come up with those data on the weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.”

So from the business side, there was a lot of inefficiency getting data to the point where it was presentable to different audiences, which presented in its own right a big business problem for Betadam. But where to begin?

“We started from a focused business case by partnering with three different groups to showcase how centralization of data can be efficient, helpful, and a good roadmap for the company,” she says. “You have to build trust within stakeholders, and really prove you can help them help themselves. That’s the first level of a cultural shift. It took us about six months to do the proof of concept for three different business units, but it was highly successful. In fact, the ROI was so high, we gained the trust of our executives to invest in a platform to begin centralizing data.”

CIO contributing editor Julia King recently spoke with Betadam about Novanta’s unified shift from its fractured reporting culture to a more efficient data-driven organization. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On investing in capabilities: We’ve set up something called a BI Center of Excellence where we train and have workshops and seminars on a monthly basis that team members across Novanta can join to learn about how they could leverage data marts or data sources to build their own reporting. So we have a visualization layer where we teach different groups within our organization to learn. It’s evolved from over the past four years from having nothing and siloed data sets of spreadsheets and everyone doing their own thing, to being centralized based on KPIs and the trust in what they receive from the data. They’re learning how to visualize data on their own, so they don’t really need IT other than the data marts in order to build their own dashboards.

On a positive mentality: Transformations aren’t just technology driven, they’re people and process driven. And change doesn’t come easy no matter which organization you’re at. So when you talk about data, there’s a lot of change that can happen from the way people work to how they manage data, and how you report and make decisions based on that data. That’s integral for any business. When you’re making proposals, if the answer is no, don’t be discouraged, go back and try why there was a no. Keep at it because I’ve heard no throughout my career. If you’re a firm believer of something that will have a huge impact in your business, you just have to have the tenacity to go after it, understand it, try to explain it and educate people on it to create momentum. Once you prove that, then the rest is history.          

On BI maturity: When it comes to reporting and analytics or BI, in order to gain the trust of team members, you have to be able to educate as well as let them know that just the data reporting and having access to data from a centralized view doesn’t mean your data is necessarily accurate, because if you don’t input the data correctly, you get garbage in, garbage out. I think part of educating team members, when we’re doing proofs of concept, is about not expecting a miracle. We have a multitude of ERP systems to map as well as data sources. We could do all that mapping and validation with you, but if the underlying data isn’t accurate, it has nothing to do with the mechanism which provides that. It’s the clean-up effort. It’s about being transparent and educating your business in terms of what the expectation of the BI tool can deliver.

On data governance: We have 17 different ERP systems, and Novanta is a very acquisitive company, so it’s an ongoing challenge. But my team is familiar with different backend technologies for the mainstream ERP. Yet if we come across an ERP that’s not necessarily mainstream, they’ll have challenges getting into the back end, and integrating and understanding the relational data to connect it to our central data lake. That’s going to be an ongoing technical risk that we’ll have and we need to overcome that. What we understood in 2019 was when people don’t see what they’re inputting, they often forget different entry variations, like how many ways there are to say, “United States.” But through some key business cases, and now to the entire group, discrepancies from data duplication are visible, as well as the visibility and movement for data governance that’s spun off across Novanta, and the BI platform and reporting. It’s a work in progress. We’re discovering more, but it definitely helps to have the visibility and data governance to clean the data and integrate the data mapping, which helps the BI team to publish data marts.

Business Intelligence, CIO, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Architecture, IT Leadership