BT and The Stationery Office (TSO) are working together to offer help to the public sector to hit the 2005 deadlines for the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The Act, due to come into force in January 2005, will allow anyone to make a request for information to any UK public body or agency.
It requires a response within 20 working days and is part of a drive towards electronic records and document management across the public sector.
Mike Stone, head of BT Open Access, which is offering the service, told vnunet.com: "It's a huge issue for all departments. If public authorities aren't ready by 1 January 2005 it's not Y2K all over again, but it's the most onerous legislation of its kind."
FOI offers an opportunity for organisations to get closer to customers and improve operational efficiency, said Stone. But he admitted that there are mixed levels of readiness for the Act.
"We don't want to over-hype this," he said. "We want to make sure organisations are aware of the challenges and opportunities."
An FOI regulatory check from BT Open Access and TSO, including an analysis of policies and procedures, skill levels and an information audit, costs between £13,000 and £30,000 and takes two to three man-weeks to complete.
Nina Wilton, corporate standards manager at Wiltshire County Council, said: "FOI is huge but manageable. If we didn't have e-government coming along at the same time, the infrastructure issues would be massive.
"We have legacy systems everywhere and a crippling number of separate databases. There is concern about the sheer scale of this. A lot of what we're doing is getting as much information as possible on our website.
But Wilton warned that the public sector should not underestimate the challenges.
"We found it incredibly time consuming to pull all the data together and even with document management systems there will still be a lot of stuff on paper for the foreseeable future," she said.
Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith said guidance for compliance with FOI would be issued shortly. But he warned that a one-size-fits-all method of compliance was unlikely.
"We welcome the fact that some possible solutions for authorities are coming onto the market but authorities need to look at their own requirements before deciding what action they need to take to comply with the Act," he said.
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