North Star Project – Minnesota Government Online IRM Plan – By Steven Clift – 1997



ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA 55101-1314



*****DRAFT 1.0 TO IPO*****





Introduction and Principles

This North Star Project proposal lays out the framework for the transition of the current North Star Project to a comprehensive citizen-focused government service and information system.

The North Star budget proposal marks the beginning of a transition from a demonstration project to next century’s primary gateway for direct government to citizen public service provision and interaction through the use of information technology.

The proposal represents the realization that specific resources must be dedicated to the development of the official framework for coordination and planning of government online activities designed for public use. Through executive branch and legislative leadership, Minnesota will help lead the way by establishing a solid foundation for cost-effective and forward looking government online development.

  • The new North Star online database-driven directory service will:
    • provide the public with a comprehensive, organized, and user-friendly system to locate and navigate through government services and information;
    • will present the foundation for the migration to actual provision of government services online;
    • allow the public to choose their preferred technology for accessing government while also providing government an internal customer service tool.

The strategic budget investment of $600,000 a year in North Star likely represents less than 10 percent of the resource investment in this area, but it will help ensure that the other 90 percent spent by hundreds of Minnesota government units provides the public with exponentially more value for their tax dollars.

In anticipation of future resources the framework for a North Star Online Development Fund will likely be proposed in the future to the legislature for small government online planning grants and grants for inter-governmental applications development with a focus on services.

  • A core North Star staff with a mix of information content, planning, design, and management skills, will in sum represent a leadership hub for collaboration and coordination of overall government online development. The project will be dedicated providing the public as a whole with user-friendly access to a dynamic set of government services and information that are provided in the most cost effective manner possible.

Much of the vision we hold for more responsive government through use of information technology will be realized in ten years. The real challenge for the State of Minnesota is to act now because it understands that its vision can be realized in five years, but be done twice as well at potentially half the overall cost.

The following draft “Principles for Government Online” from a recent presentation to an inter-governmental audience have been designed to guide planning, development, and implementation of the North Star Project:

  1. User-focused design for user friendly access and intuitive navigation
  2. All of public sector is easily accessible from “single-window” starting point 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  3. “Digital” information or service organized so users may choose their preferred information technology for interaction – computer, TV, phone, FAX, paper, person
  4. Dynamic searching – users may locate or search for service and information based on their interests and needs regardless of place, disability, and preferred access technology
  5. Users may complete full service transactions and receive desired depth of public information access to the fullest capability of used access technology
  6. Collaborative intergovernmental “audience focuses” serve specific “publics” based on their interests and needs versus hierarchical display
  7. System is of direct use to government staff for information/service referral or provision
  8. Development and use is cost-effective and fully integrated into the business of government – planning is essential
  9. Measurement and feedback from users and general public guide level of service development and systems encourage public participation in what government services are provided (systems must create new information for policy makers to prioritize future allocation of public resources for services – versus automation of old systems)

  • Enclosed is the current text from the FY98-99 budget process:


Minnesota’s World Wide Web Presence

North Star is the State of Minnesota’s World Wide Web “Welcome” page. A growing number of state agencies are providing information to citizens and government via the Internet. North Star has provided a single point of reference, from which researchers can find and access a multitude of government information resources.

However, the current version of North Star provides only a basic directory to government information resources on the Internet and these resources are really just information “brochures.” The next generation of the North Star Project will provide the public with a user-friendly, “single window” to Minnesota government services through the use of multiple information technologies.


North Star 2 will provide a citizen-focused, service oriented, secure transaction gateway to services offered by multiple state and local government agencies. A database driven application at the top-level access point ( will ensure that users can gain quick access to high volume service transactions and directory information with links to the depth of specific government unit applications. Potential inter-governmental clusters for the development of online government applications including the environment, business, citizen services, democracy, tourism, K-12 education (see educational technology proposal), local government, higher education, government “intranet”, rural-agriculture, libraries, and likely others.

Future developments will ensure broad public access to “digital” information and service through the use of new technologies. These multiple technologies include computers on the Internet, telephones, FAX machines, televisions with set-top boxes connected to the Internet and other technologies that ensure access for the disabled.

Project Rationale

The following rationales help establish the need for aggressive government development and operations in this area:

  • The public expects government to provide effective and efficient access to government services and information.
  • A full featured secure transaction gateway and dynamic, database driven search capability will help aggregate application development, allow for greater security, save resources, promote coordination and inter-operability, and allow for the potential of out-sourcing and competitive contract work. Providing the transaction gateway at a central location will ensure inter-operability of transaction systems, provide cost savings (by reducing duplicated efforts), and allow agencies to concentrate on providing services.
  • Information tools now exist to provide access to government through multiple technologies to most of the population. The development of a database driven top-level service with integration of tools that allow easy access through telephones, FAX machines, and eventually televisions is key to realization of benefits in this area.

Project Benefits

  • Government information infrastructure investments are leveraged not duplicated. For example, if North Star provides a means of secure Internet transactions, it will not be necessary for multiple agencies to develop transaction services. Agencies can instead concentrate on providing services online.
  • Public access to government information and services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Allows the public to serve themselves, which may reduce telephone inquiries, travel to government offices, and printing and postage costs.
  • Improved government service delivery and mechanism for collaboration and coordinated developments.
  • Citizen have choice of technology in their interaction with government.
  • Alignment to public expectation of government service regardless of the source of that service (state, local, federal). Future options would allow geographic based directories of government services through the use of a database-driven environment.
  • North Star becomes a information utility within government for use by staff in their information and referral needs. “Intranet” applications may be developed from the same platform.
  • Enables citizens to gain a better understanding of their government and to be more participatory.
  • Provides fundamentally different foundation for audience or topic-based inter-governmental applications.

  • CSF= Critical Success Factors
  • Note: Attachments are not available with on-line version. Sorry.

CSF 1: Executive Leadership and Involvement

1.1 Executive Leadership

  • A North Star Project Manager shall be appointed by the Executive Director of the Office of Technology in consultation with project participants. The specific duties shall be based on a non-temporary classification of the current North Star Project Team Leader position. See attachment 1.1.
  • The North Star Project Manager will represent the project in high-level relationships with state agencies, local governments, and other government units involved with publicly accessible online services. The North Star Project Manager shall in conjunction with the Executive Director of the Office of Technology, hire appropriate staff. In total, the currently envisioned North Star Project staff will consist of 6-8 FTE positions. The staff will represent a leadership structure and participation support for government-wide development of direct public-government interaction through information technology.

1.2 North Star Partnership and Involvement

  • Enacting legislation for North Star shall establish the framework for official government unit participation in the initiative. General legislative authorization shall enable multiple levels of involvement that shall be specifically defined and structured by the project to ensure broad government participation and citizen input.
  • The current North Star Project by its nature represents one of the most collaborative government initiatives to date, however, in its current form, the capacity for formal involvement and coordination is limited. There is likely no government branch, state agency, local government, college, school, library, or other government units and intergovernmental efforts that will not be affected by future government online activities. One core staff position would be assigned to outreach and coordination to enable the mix of policy and planning efforts across government that will in the end present a seamless package of government services directly to the public. See attachment 1.2 for details on MN-GOV-NORTHSTAR, the world’s largest state-level e-mail collaboration forum for government online development which has close to 300 participants from across the public sector.
  • A potential North Star Partnership for active participants, advanced development, additional support and project review that is made up of representatives from a core of highly involved government units and organizations would assist the project’s advancement once it receives official legislative status.

CSF 2: Policies, Standards and Guidelines

2.1 Government online Policies, Standards, and Guidelines

  • The next phase of the North Star Project is fundamentally about providing the necessary resources for the development of policies, standards and guidelines that provide a dynamic and stable development structure for publicly accessible online government information and services.
  • These policies, standards, and guidelines will focus on the development of the information and service resources designed for direct public access. Internet standards from the Internet Engineering Task Force, the World-Wide-Web Consortium and those adopted by the Information Policy Office, the Information Policy Council, and others present a technical foundation for information systems development. Close coordination with these bodies will be essential.
  • North Star sponsored policy, standard, and guideline development processes will focus on those areas essential to the development of a seamless government agency, service, and over the long run an information locator that may be accessed in an user-friendly manner through multiple technologies and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additional guidelines, policies and standards would promote government unit specific and intergovernmental government online application planning. In the end North Star activity is more about the application’s interface design, content format, transactional service security than what an agency says about itself on its own World-Wide-Web site or traditional information system issues of a more technical behind the scenes nature.

2.2 Possible Policies, Standards and Guideline Activity

  • The new North Star front-end will serve as an agency and service locator. The main menu page itself on North Star now has over 4,000 visitors a week. This page serves at the “single-window” to government and should be crafted to intuitively present the well designed options for accessing and navigating all of Minnesota government online. In Internet terms it is best described as a Minnesota government-focused advanced version of “Yahoo!” ( A set of standard database fields will be defined and modeled in its distributed operation in large part as a scaled up version of the intergovernmental environmental education project called SEEK ( Widely distributed access will be given to government units to input, update, and enhance core directory and frequently requested information remotely via the WWW. A database designer and meta-data expert will lead staff efforts in the development and implementation of such a directory. The manual maintenance of this information on current North Star directory pages is unsustainable and an automated indexing solution is a top priority. The new directory server has been given the temporary development code name of “Aurora”. See attachments 2.2.A for example print outs of “single-widow” front ends including the current North Star main menu.
  • A “Government Online Best Practices and Planning Guide” focused on Minnesota government could be modeled on the new guide from the Center for Technology in Government’s “Developing & Delivering Government Services on the World Wide Web” which was designed for New York State Government. They reference the 1995 draft Information Policy Office IRM guideline titled, “Internet Access and Information Dissemination: Selected Topics” which has not been updated or reviewed in some time. At this point it is clear that the issue of providing the publicly accessible government online services is a fundamentally different policy issue from issues related to government staff access or use of external resources on the Internet. At the state government level, the Information Policy Office and Information Policy Council should retain and increase their level of activity in related policy areas. In concert with these and other governmental organizations, the North Star Project shall take the lead in those focused areas where direct public interaction with government through information services is provided. For references to various resources, please see attachment 2.2.B for printout of the contents of the North Star Development Center and the summary from the CTG guide.
  • Guidelines related to the use of standard content formats will be essential to promote scalable use through user preferred interaction technologies. This will help ensure the broadest public access to the “digital source” of a document or service, including access by the disabled. See the section 4 on Models for details on the use of the Internet for multi-technology access and design of the “digital source.”
  • The privacy and data practices implications of more advanced government online services (those that provide transactions or some level of personalization) must be addressed through policy processes and may require legislative action before the public will accept with confidence broad financial and other service transactions with government.

CSF 3: Planning

3.1 Information Resource Plan

  • The North Star budget and legislative proposals are in essence planning and leadership processes. They include basic implementation of those applications absolutely essential to ensure a basic level of user-focused activity that presents government and to a certain extent Minnesota as a whole to the public. Additional resources for the legislatively proposed North Star Online Development Fund allocated either this session or in the future would largely be focused on the development of a service-oriented transaction system for directly delivery of government services. This will require extensive planning, the current level of proposed resources of $600,000 a year would help support this planning process, but additional resources and funding mechanisms would have to be available at a future date.
  • The current information architecture of North Star is very basic. The are two distinct parts of the WWW service – the North Star directory pages and the shared WWW service called the “North Star Hotel.”
    • A. The North Star directory pages consist of a couple dozen WWW pages that help users navigate from government unit to government unit or they provide access to various project or external resources on the Internet. These pages are currently manually edited (versus the proposed database directory) and not much more complicated than the creation of a word processing file. See attachment 3.1.A for sample directory pages.
    • B. The North Star Hotel’s information architecture is also extremely simple. An agency requests space on the WWW server and is given a login, password, and “virtual hosted” space for their HTML (hyper-text mark-up) files and graphics. The virtual host ensures that an agency may move WWW servers without having to change their publicly distributed WWW address (i.e. – a key to ensuring competition and portability over the long run. The University of Minnesota is on contract to provide support for the processing of account requests. The server is physically located at MNet in the Intertechnologies division of the Department of Administration. Once the technical account is established, agencies are 100 percent responsible for content development and maintenance. They develop their files on their local network and transfer the complete files to the WWW server in a few seconds via a file transfer program. There are now 49 state agencies with accounts. Around 30 have gone public with their WWW service. A rough estimate of total cost savings assuming that each agency would have gone online with their own server and dedicated at least 1/4 a staff position to establishment and technical maintenance of their server is in the range of $750,000. The estimated total expenditure for core North Star activities during its demonstration phase including staff time is less than $300,000. Agencies are responsible for the resource allocations related to content development. See attachment 3.1.B for a copy of the North Star Hotel Guideline. (A comprehensive list of agencies on the WWW, on our server, etc. will soon be updated.)
  • The future information architecture for the North Star Project and the general development of Minnesota government’s Internet-based applications should be reviewed and enhanced on a regular basis. While the WWW stands out in most people’s minds, a full information service requires the use and coordination of the public elements of a number of Internet-based services hosted by multiple state agencies. See attachment 3.1.C for a diagram of predicted Minnesota government Internet service developments. The primary anticipated technical investment as it relates to this proposal is focused on the “North Star Shared Server” (hotel) and the North Star ‘Aurora’ Server (Database Directory). The illustration seeks to display the depth and level of activity that will likely occur based on current trends.
  • The technical separation of the North Star Shared Server from the North Star “Yahoo!” style directory multiple technologies server is important to note. The issue of which hardware or software platform for these and other servers must be carefully evaluated. The size and complexity of government rule out the assumption that only one platform (Unix versus Window NT) will solve all of our technical needs. The technical needs for various project components must be evaluated based on the desired outcome and required system performance. For example, the technical complexity of the North Star Shared Server, currently a SunSparc20 workstation running on the Solaris 2.4 Unix operating system (will soon be upgraded to 2.6) , allows for remote administration and extremely easy use by government agencies on the “hotel.” However, the envisioned North Star directory server may find an advantage in the use of Windows NT based on its database oriented scheme. These issues will have to be examined closely before any decisions are made.
  • The North Star Shared Server will likely be in a position to be “outsourced” to MNet or potentially to an outside Internet Service Provider. The chief technical position of the North Star staff core will be responsible for initial support of this service and its potential migration. The set-up and account administration of a basic WWW presence service is not unlike that of other Internet-related services provided by MNet, MRNet, and dozens of other companies. Some agencies currently purchase WWW space from outside sources and nothing would prevent a mix of providers from competing to provide WWW services to government in relationship to the North Star Project. The current basic WWW service will be expanded to include at least one enhanced tier of service that will require the development of an economic model for the support of such enhanced service. In addition to an enhanced tier, agencies need to be able to purchase necessary advanced development skills and tools within in a competitive framework not restricted based on the technical house which hosts their WWW service. Also, depending upon available resources, the goal of the North Star Project is to continue a level of “subsidized” service for basic WWW presence for at least an initial year of development. Since most large agencies are now on the WWW, this would benefit the smaller agencies considerably. A determination about providing basic or enhanced WWW service to local governments will have to be made based on the available resources and other policy considerations.

3.2 Project Management

  • The project will require a project manager that has both experience in the development and planning of online services, but also an understanding of and experience in the public sector. The level of skill required for those positions in the core staff team will be extremely high and competitive wage pressures from the private sector make it essential that the project be managed in a way the engages staff in a highly rewarding professional manner. Project manager connections to broader online activity in the state and other government online initiatives will be very important.
  • The project in its essence represents a coordination and collaboration effort that as a whole will seek to manage the direction and development of publicly accessible online government information and services. To that end, the following positions will likely make up the core North Star staff team of 6-8 full time equivalents:
    • Project Manager
    • Database Designer
    • Section and Content Designer
    • Technical Coordinator
    • Collaboration and Outreach Coordinator
    • Development Fund Administrator (future)
    • General Office Support and Student Employees/Interns

3.3 Contract Management

  • The legislative authorization for development and coordination of government online contracts will be sought. This will be essential to positioning North Star as a purchaser of advanced online development tools and platforms versus a technical provider.
  • Depending upon legislative resources, a North Star Online Development Fund is envisioned. That fund would be used for both contracting online services for government-wide and agency specific use as well as grants for planning and intergovernmental applications development. A position to oversee these relationships and positions will be required if such a fund is established. The current budget does not include support for such a fund at this time, but is anticipated in future years.

3.4 Project Plans

  • A detailed time line for development of policy, guideline, and standard processes will need to be established.
  • A detailed time line for planning, demonstration and phased implementation of core services will need to be established.

3.5 Life cycle cost, Benefits & Risk

  • The North Star Project will evolve over time. To both the users and content and service providers the system will look radically different in a few years. The project name itself will go on indefinitely, however the current construct as it relates to the Office of Technology and other government entities should be viewed as an incubation stage. Future legislative sessions will be faced with much more significant resource requests emerging from all corners of government, however, in the spirit of integration, the publicly accessible component of information technology investments should become a part of general government operations and proposals.
  • The North Star Project should assist agencies in the development of methods to evaluate the costs and benefits of government online activities. While the current level of government online investment is relatively limited, the long-term “tails” or commitments of service to the public are often viewed as high. The lack of a strategic investment in the mission of the North Star Project will present significant risks to the goal of cost-effective development.
  • The use of more “open systems” and widely used standards will minimize the risk of government investment in this area. The concept of the Internet and its system of standards development is still unfamiliar to most information resources management staff. The creeping of proprietary mentalities into the Internet environment can be seen in the current WWW browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft, where the addition of non-standard features attempts to build market share at the expense of an open information environment and in the end confuses users. The greatest risk to useful and cost-effective government online development is the investment of time and resources to produce content and features in non-standard formats.
  • One of the primary benefits of the use of core North Star services will be access to and use of more advanced tools across a wider swatch of government agencies. Another will be the ability of agencies to place their more stable content on the North Star Shared Server which will be placed for optimal access from the Internet community and have secondary servers at the agencies for more complex services or database interactions. The primary benefit of such an arrangement will be the reduction of public Internet traffic into the State’s network unless absolutely necessary.

3.6 Estimated Project Costs (DRAFT):

  • Based on a budget of $600,000 a year, including staff costs, the following estimated project costs per year are as follows:
  • $200,000 – North Star Database-driven Directory Server – Planning, Development, and Phase Implementation
  • $100,000 – North Star Shared Server – Continuation, Improvement and Expansion
  • $100,000 – North Star Project Support for Coordination and Collaboration Policy Activities
  • $100,000 – General Office Expenses – Rent, Supplies, Personal Computers*
  • $50,000 – Additional North Star Supported Services – Potentially include North Star “Alta Vista” Style Search Engine, Electronic Conferencing Tools, Audio Server Access, and experimentation with secure WWW server applications.
  • $50,000 – Educational and Public Outreach Efforts
  • $0 – North Star Online Development Fund – Current

  • Total – $600,000 per year
  • * The potential co-location of staff with an advanced development team based on the level of anticipated funding for information technology oriented initiatives in higher education, K-12, trade and economic development and other public sector online areas should be considered in order to bring down costs and expand diffusion of expertise and standard applications.
  • Also see attachment 3.6 for sample cost allocation sheets from the Center for Technology in Government. While geared to agency specific online project, they will be useful in identifying more specific cost allocations.

CSF 4: Models

The use of modeling will be essential to the design and operation of user-friendly, distributed, cost-effective, and useful government online services. The following modeling work is envisioned:

  1. Data Model
    • The primary data modeling initiative will be the most important part of the design of the North Star database driven directory server. This server will be host the content and database used as the public front end to all of Minnesota government over time.
    • Over time government units will want to move from static WWW pages to database driven services as well. The components of more sophisticated services could be outlined in a data model to promote creation of modules for specific government unit use. (i.e. the similarity in content and service by counties lends itself to the development of a prototype county, city, school district, etc. WWW presence/server.)
  2. Process Model
    • Models displaying the process for North Star development of policies, standards, and guidelines as well as how general Internet standards development processes will impact Minnesota efforts will be useful.
    • Suggested government unit WWW management, content, and technical development models would help government units address the organizational issues and conflicts that often arise with the use of this cross function cutting medium.
    • A model that explored the “public’s” interaction with government online and government in general would assist with the design of the navigation, search, and keyword indexing scheme used to allow various avenues for public interaction with government online. As the “one-start” to government, North Star must develop a system which serves multiple audiences and needs from an integrated perspective. See attachment 4.2 from the Government of Victoria, Australia for an example of intergovernmental public service modeling.
  3. Event Model
    • The strategic “to do” list for the various project priorities will be needed to create realistic timeline for implementation of required project improvements.
    • An event model which laid out a suggested government unit development process that included initial basic planning, experience building, detailed planning, and large scale implementation process would be of use.
  4. Technology Model
    • The basic technology model for the North Star Shared Server was described in the information architecture section 3.1.B. The current implementation is not dramatically different from other Internet WWW presence providers. General technology models from this industry would be useful in project development.
    • The most significant advancement in the North Star Project’s perspective toward service to the citizen, is to position the “digital source” for access through multiple technologies. One example is the use of the WWW as a platform for integrated telephone access through interactive voice response and FAX-back. Attached are two diagrams from the Web-On-Call product which illustrate this concept. This approach will demonstrate the value of integrated access to the “digital source” versus burdensome maintenance of different versions of the same information or services for different technologies.

CSF 5: Information Resource Organization

The substance of this document extensively describes how the North Star Project as a whole is an information resource organization that will represent the overall coordination, collaboration and management structure for government-wide online development.

The organization must engage in activities that provide for direct public outreach and input into future resource dedications in the government online activity. This can be done through the use of surveys and comment form, focus group meetings, usability testing, and analysis of summary use statistics. As more is learned about the public demand function in this area, government units and legislature will need to use that information in the prioritization of expenditures and allocations of resources on government online initiatives.

CSF 6: Skills

  1. 6.1 Organization IR Skills
    • A North Star Project will require a high concentration of information resource skills. The types of position to be created based on the limited level of resources will present a significant challenge to the project. As noted above the competitive wage pressures in the Internet expertise market may make it difficult to retain staff unless the operation presents professional opportunities and intangibles not available elsewhere. With this in mind the project must establish mechanisms for access to external skills based for short-term needs and developments. It must also develop formal mechanisms to share or borrow staff time with other government units. The skills needed to move North Star forward exist across the public sector, the challenge that must be met is the establishment of formal mechanisms that would allow for skills exchange toward the goals of a comprehensive project from the experience gained in the creation of government unit specific online applications.

6.2 Project Skills

  • The core North Star team position titles have emerged from extensive experience and analysis. At a minimum the project requires the following skills: project management, strategic planning, technical coordination, technical knowledge and experience including use of multiple technologies, content and editorial, indexing and librarian skills, electronic conferencing, training, multimedia development, human factors design and testing, security analysis, outreach and communication, contract management, office and fiscal support, and likely many others.
  • The core North Star team will also be called on to provide extensive skill support to government online initiatives across the public sector. In some cases the core North Star team will be in a position to help government units directly, in other cases the North Star team will be a facilitator directing requests toward other public sector or private sector entities that may be of assistance.