Isle of Wight Council deploys e-mail search programme to meet FoI requests

Smart projects: Applications under the Freedom of Information Act accelerated by product that searches e-mail threads

Smart projects: Applications under the Freedom of Information Act accelerated by product that searches e-mail threads

The Isle of Wight Council has deployed a new search tool to improve its ability to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

The application enables council officers to find e-mail threads generated when members of the public ask for council documents under the terms of the Act.

Since the Freedom of Information Act came into force on 1 January 2005, all public sector organisations have had to provide documents that are requested by members of the public, although requests for information covered by the Act's exemptions can be turned down.

The Isle of Wight's head of organisational development, David Price, said the application, Email Information Management Suite, allowed those carrying out searches to look at documents and e-mail relating to collaborative work across the authority.

"The ability to find e-mail threads between people working collaboratively on the same subject is new. The benefit for the public is that the application closes the gaps in the information that they receive," he said.

One of the key benefits of the deployment is that it enables the council to provide members of the public with e-mail correspondence relating to the documents they had originally requested.

The council deployed the application from US software supplier Kinomi last month.

Price said that the search application would find more relevant e-mails than Google Desktop - the search engine's tool for finding files on desktop PCs.

"Google Desktop would be one way of searching for e-mails and other relevant files, but it would not find threaded e-mails. It does not make relationships between e-mails about the same subject," he said.

The Isle of Wight's IT department has set different levels of security for users of the application. Because it is so powerful only a handful of people are cleared to search all of the council's documents.

Although the application will dramatically cut the time taken to answer Freedom of Information Act requests, the council does not know whether it will deliver measurable cost savings.

The software is complex to use, with IT staff needing four days of training before making searches.

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