Understanding the Basics of RFI in Construction

Understanding the Basics of RFI in Construction

Requests for information (RFIs) are essential elements of construction project planning. When a stakeholder wants to improve or clarify a certain aspect of the project, they can file an RFI to gain access to relevant data. In this way, RFI plays a small part in keeping everyone informed and ensuring the project runs smoothly. Here’s everything aspiring professionals need to know about the hows, whys and whens of RFIs in the construction industry.

Key Components of RFI

RFIs are supposed to provide insight and explanation, so they must follow a consistent structure that lays out the information in an easily digestible format. Most RFIs are only a few pages long and include the following components:

  • Project specifications
  • Construction company’s name and contact information
  • The addressee’s name and contact information
  • RFI date, number and response deadline
  • Title, abstract and detailed description of RFI
  • Space for the company to address the question or concern

Maintaining this standardized format helps construction companies formulate a concise and timely response to the RFI. Timeliness is more important than ever in the construction industry, as labor and material shortages cause frequent project delays and force contractors to extend timelines. Reducing informational bottlenecks keeps the project moving.

Construction companies can also make quick resolutions to RFIs thanks to recent advancements in management software. All project datasets and descriptions are stored in a centralized digital location with no unnecessary paperwork, allowing stakeholders to see real-time updates and access the latest versions of important documents — including RFIs.

Another reason for RFI’s increasing effectiveness is the growth of big data in construction. Industry professionals now have access to greater amounts of data than ever before, thanks to the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) analytics tools. More available data allows contractors and stakeholders to make accurate estimates and bids that lead to RFI resolutions.

Types of RFIs

Although RFIs generally follow the same template, each request focuses on a specific application. Their categorization determines who needs to send and receive the requested information.

The main requests a construction company might receive during an average project include:

  • General issues: This type of RFI addresses a broad range of topics, from missing documents to employee schedules to equipment warranties. It’s a quick and simple way to address day-to-day problems that might arise during a project.
  • Design: RFIs play a key role in tracking the design process and helping contractors implement changes.
  • Feasibility: This type of RFI is often part of a feasibility assessment that has identified weak points in a project’s budget or logistics.
  • Coordination: This RFI deals with workplace safety concerns and project scheduling conflicts.
  • Resource management: Contractors will use this RFI whenever they need to make a timeline adjustment that affects resource allocation.
  • Scope deletion: Whenever a stakeholder or design planner wants to remove a certain feature from the project’s design, they will request a scope deletion.
  • Value engineering: This type of RFI deals with new proposals to improve the project’s cost efficiency.
  • Change in specifications: Any time someone wants to change something about the building’s design, they will request a change in specs. These changes can include architectural features, materials and overall square footage.

There are also three basic steps that every RFI follows:

  1. Submission: The party seeking new information will submit an RFI by either sending it directly to the contractor or to an intermediary. Stakeholders will often use an intermediary if they’re not on-site, while design planners or subcontractors can go straight to the contractor for answers.
  2. Response: The recipient prepares and sends a response prior to the RFI’s deadline. Sometimes the response is available on the same day, but it can also sit unresolved for several days if the request involves a major overhaul of the project.
  3. Evaluation: The first party evaluates the response and determines whether the case is resolved. If the response did not address the RFI’s question or concern, another RFI or a more formal method of correspondence might be required.

There is a clear overarching theme that connects each type of RFI. While they might focus on different topics, they share the same goal of optimizing the project’s workflow. It’s easy for information to get lost in the shuffle and never reach the right personnel. If and when that happens, an RFI is a fast and reliable course of action.

Challenges With RFI

While RFIs follow a straightforward procedure, there are still some weak points. The most glaring issue is the potential for major delays and cost overruns if the RFI doesn’t get resolved on time. If the RFI aims to address a pressing issue, it can hold up the entire project until the recipient formulates a response.

According to a 2013 study on the cost-effectiveness of more than 1 million RFIs, Navigant Consulting found the average request cost $1,080 on average and 10% of them were deemed “unjustifiable.” Moreover, about 25% of RFIs did not receive a reply by the deadline because the requests were unnecessary or impossible to complete.

In order to address these challenges, companies must set clear expectations for their RFI protocols and provide as much context as possible when filing one. The exact nature of the question or misunderstanding must be obvious to all parties involved.

The use of advanced software will also help them communicate without confusion and identify real-time solutions rather than backlogging the project with missed deadlines.

How Artificial Intelligence is Improving RFI

The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) has made communication in construction much easier. The name of the game is predictive analytics. Rather than speculating about project issues and submitting an RFI without just cause, construction professionals can leverage AI software to anticipate problems before they arise.

Predictive analytics uses statistical algorithms and external data to forecast future trends. In the context of construction, these algorithms help managers predict and mitigate risks before they cause a disruption. An employee might still have to submit an RFI, but it will include the necessary information to solve the problem.

AI architectural technology has also helped to reduce the number of RFIs by providing accurate building blueprints, organizing documents, tracking inventories and optimizing deliveries. Improving these crucial project management tasks leads to fewer clashes between departments and thus fewer RFIs.

AI also helps companies track the resolution of RFIs by grouping them into similar categories and automatically detecting responses. RFI response software takes over much of the manual effort involved in the RFI process, including creating custom templates and instantly sending field notes with real-time updates to the right personnel. All communication is streamlined on the same online platform. No paper documents or written reports are necessary.

RFI – Challenging yet Crucial

All construction professionals agree that RFIs are crucial processes for discovering and resolving project issues. However, they can only work to their full potential if contractors, stakeholders and clients include the right information. This challenge will persist until every company has invested in capable management software that optimizes communication and collaboration.

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Evelyn Long is a writer and the editor-in-chief of Renovated. Her work has been published by NCCER, Build Magazine and other online publications.