Request for information, or colloquially known as a construction RFI. You know they happen, you don’t like them, you don’t like losing time over them and paying for them. At all. But as certain as death and taxes, RFIs are a necessity in the construction industry. Although there are ways to keep RFIs low, many contractors don’t avail themselves of these options, and therefore end up paying through the nose and reducing their bottom line dramatically.
According to a Navigant Construction Forum survey of 1,362 projects, there is an average of 9.9 requests for information for each $1 million of construction worldwide.
This translated to an average project cost, once hours for review and response were taken into account, of $859,680 dedicated to RFIs.
Of course, it’s not because contractors, engineers and architects enjoy paying more than they have to. The main problem is that construction RFIs are often misunderstood, and as a result, mishandled.
Luckily, the common construction RFI dilemma has a clear solution. If you’d like to keep your RFIs low, it first starts with understanding what an RFI is–as opposed to an RPT, RFQ or RFT. It also requires knowing why a construction RFI is submitted, what goes into responding to them and why they’re important to the project as a whole.
What is Request for Information (RFI) in Construction?
The American Council of Engineering Companies of Kansas explains that “In most Construction Documents, it is inevitable that the agreement, drawings and specifications will not adequately address every single matter.” Therefore, “There may be gaps, conflicts or subtle ambiguities. The goal of the Request For Information (RFI) is to act as a partnering tool to resolve these gaps, conflicts or subtle ambiguities during the bidding process or early in the construction process to eliminate the need for costly corrective measures.”
The phrase “request for information” might make this seem like a simple process in which a question is asked and then subsequently answered. Unfortunately, it’s not always this easy. As the above definition indicates, an RFI is a formal and sometimes complicated process and needs an immense amount of detail.
Construction RFIs are used by many parties and for many purposes, as Quality in Construction explains. It may be “a question from the Contractor to the Designer asking for information and clarifications on some drawing” or “a question from the Contractor to the Client or other stakeholders of the project… In some other cases, it’s the Subcontractor who is asking information from the Main Contractor regarding the subcontracted works.”
Frequently, RFIs are used much earlier in the procurement process by clients gathering information from a variety of companies to see which one might best fit their needs.
How Is an RFI Different from an RFP, RFQ or RFT?
RFI, RFP, RFQ and RFT, with so many “R’s” it can get difficult to remember which is which and how they are different. In order to understand the difference between these four basic requests, let’s take a look at the definitions of the other three procurement terms. Negotiation Experts defines them the following ways:
- Request for Proposal (RFP): Sometimes based on a prior RFI; a business requirements-based request for specific solutions to the sourcing problem.
- Request for Quotation (RFQ): An opportunity for potential suppliers to competitively cost the final chosen solution(s).
- Request for Tender (RFT): An opportunity for potential suppliers to submit an offer to supply goods or services against a detailed tender.
Note, each of these terms may be made as either a precursor to a construction RFI (when the RFI is part of a project) or as a subsequent step (when the RFI is in the initial phase of a client hiring a company).
What Are RFIs Commonly Used For?
An RFI may be used for any reason during the initial information-gathering phase of a construction project, before quoting has even commenced, and right up to the final phases of construction, in which contractors and subcontractors may need final queries answered regarding materials, building specifications and more. In addition to other questions not answered by the existing documents, RFIs may be commonly used to clarify the following:
- Design Drawings
What Does the Construction RFI Process Look Like?
As part of its formal process, an RFI is usually submitted by a form. However, since requests for information are such a standard part of any construction process, each architect, designer, contractor and subcontractor may have their own particular method of submitting one. Over time, this can become extremely confusing and costly, as all stakeholders struggle to track all the different methods of request–and, according to some statistics, fail to receive a response 22% of the time.
Instead of throwing your hard hat down in frustration, a better approach is to use standardized technology that enables every stakeholder to request information in a timely fashion, within a specific time period. That way, all questions actually get answered and the project operates more efficiently as a whole.
Are you looking for a complete playbook on RFIs in construction? Check out this guide:
Why Are RFIs Important?
While requests for information may feel burdensome when they come through–or when you have to submit them yourself–they are critical for allowing the project to move forward in a timely and accurate fashion. Without the ability and platform to ask questions when necessary, projects may either come to a halt or be completed with below standard quality, neither of which pleases anyone.
How Do You Improve RFIs?
When it comes to construction RFIs, change your mindset. Instead of seeing RFIs as a necessary evil to just put up with, view them as an opportunity for streamlining and improving the design, engineering and construction processes. When you need technical answers to a knotty question, you need mobile technology that can accommodate efficient, accurate and user-friendly RFIs and kill the drama before it can even begin.
In our recent post, “10 No-Brainer Ways to Fast-Track and Improve RFIs,” we highlight the leading strategies to streamline the typically painful process on both ends of the spectrum. These include:
- Carefully considering timing
- Clearly defining the problem
- Offering other solutions
- Asking for the response you want
- Standardizing the process
And more…Read all 10 of our tips in our post with detailed and actionable insights.
Create Your Action Plan to Avoid the High Cost of RFIs
RFIs are likely costing your company and projects. You need a plan of action to expedite and optimize this essential construction workflow. If you’re looking for a guide on how to accelerate and make measurable improvements to the RFI process from the start, download our latest guide: The Ins and Outs of Construction RFIs.