The Smartest Thing Sheila Butler Ever Did

CIO Sheila Butler has led Horry County, S.C., to a GIS-centric environment by building and planning strategically.

by Sheila Butler, CIO, Horry County, S.C. / May 21, 2013

Editor's note: In this series, Public CIO set forth to find answers from several of the nation’s top CIOs who have served or currently are in state, local and federal positions. These firsthand accounts are about how establishing partnerships, trusting and letting go, investing in people, and assessing situations have all been instrumental to smart decision-making.

Sheila Butler, pictured at left, has been the CIO of Horry County for nearly 13 years. Prior to joining the county, Butler worked for more than 10 years at Beneteau, an international sailboat manufacturer. She has been a leader in transitioning Horry County to a GIS-centric environment and a showcase for the latest technologies.  

Building and Planning Strategically

When I was asked to write about the smartest thing I ever did as a CIO, I reflected upon Stephen Covey's seven habits, primarily "begin with the end in mind" and think "win win," which I use for strategic planning and also use on a daily basis at Horry County Government.

I believe we must begin and end with the people, relationships, and the team for success. I am very proud of my team at Horry County, but it wasn't an easy road to get where we are today.  I began working with the county in July of 2000 and faced many challenges, such as a broken infrastructure, a combatant IT department (which did not work well with one another was an understatement), a budget comprised of a poor investment strategy, departments perception of IT was inadequate and no was a standard response for any departmental requests or new idea. Did I mention that there wasn't an IT strategic plan?  In addition, the GIS manager was retiring from a fairly new GIS department.  The county had made significant investments in GIS and executive management was anxious to begin seeing the benefits of their investment. I was asked to combine IT and GIS into one department, which was one of the smartest things I said yes to.

So where do I begin in this environment? I began facing these challenges by focusing upon building the team, building relationships, and the creation of a strategic plan "beginning with the end in mind." There were several goals of my strategic plan, some of which included:

  • Enterprise approach in applications (COTS) with an open architecture.
  • Enterprise approach to infrastructure based upon standards.
  • Recognition that there are only two types of data: financial and spatial and that all new applications and data would be presentable in either form.
  • Establishing a requirement that GIS would be intrinsic to all new applications, and based upon a centralized enterprise GIS foundation.

In building the team, I hired my right hand to head up the GIS program. GIS was a completely new technology to me, but I realized the value it would provide to the organization. I did not have any technical knowledge of GIS and I needed someone who would be my partner, share my vision (and add to it) for GIS, build a great team, and provide the knowledge and skills to take GIS to the next level. I was fortunate to find someone who was as enthusiastic as me about the goals and the future and has stayed with me on this journey. Our partnership has been critical in providing new technologies and uniting GIS into everything we do. The partnership is so strong now that we complete each other’s sentences! This was one of those smartest things I have ever done.

I also began breaking down walls within the department and building relationships with other departments. I began to give a “YES” answer to departmental needs, yes to new ideas, and began delivering solutions (including GIS) to departments, which opened new doors and changed the once broken environment. I approached departments with a win-win approach and we as an organization started opening up to new technologies and ideas. 

See the rest of the stories in the "Smartest Thing" series.