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By Lauren Masser
April 22, 2016
As any construction executive or project manager knows all too well, Requests for Information (RFIs) can take up a considerable amount of time and manpower. These requests for contractual obligations, agreements, drawings, or specifications can hold up the progress of a job, incur additional costs for the company, and ultimately cause a project to continue well past the scheduled deadline. While the architects design a building, the engineers deduce how to build it safely, and the contractor oversees the actual construction. But each of these roles has become increasingly isolated from one another, creating the current circumstances wherein the one will need to request information from the other.
Some in the industry might think of RFIs as a necessary evil in that yes, they might slow down the construction process, but they're still required to finish a job properly and effectively. However, the truth is that RFIs create a significant amount of overruns. While it might be impossible to completely eliminate this aspect of the construction process due to the increasingly siloed nature of the various actors involved in designing and building a structure, there is a way to reduce the number of RFIs and the time it takes to review and answer the requests.
One of the major problems with RFIs is the additional cost burden they can place on a construction job. It might not seem like much initially, but the delays and downtime that arise as a result of an RFI can add up over time. As the American Council of Engineering Companies delineates in its outline of RFIs, these requests include more than five steps, each with their own subcategories, actions, and responses. Furthermore, RFIs can collectively involve a wide range of team members, who can all hold up the process and create even more delays.
In an effort to monetize the costs RFIs create for construction firms, Navigent Construction Forum of Navigant Consulting, Inc. reviewed RFI data from 1,362 projects worldwide for a total of 1,083,807 RFIs. The projects ranged in value between $5 million and $5 billion, and each one had an average of 796 RFIs.
The research revealed that RFIs can create significant backlogs, since owners and project managers are required to review and respond to each individual RFI from contractors and subcontractors, noting the cost of each one and the use of the process to make claims against owners. After sampling 1,382 projects, Navigent discovered that to review and respond to each individual RFI, it cost a construction firm an average of $1,080, while the collective cost to the project could set a firm back $859,680. In addition, whether due to requests not considered by the design team, questions already answered in the original contract, or because they are focused on means and methods, more than one in ten of the RFIs were listed as "unjustifiable." Collectively, these unjustified RFIs averaged about $113,400 per project.
Perhaps the most troubling data uncovered in the Navigent research is that nearly one out of every four RFIs receives no replies. Without someone replying and solving the problems associated with a RFI, it can lead to shoddy craftsmanship, improper construction, and even a potentially unsafe structure. With clients becoming more litigious every year, it's vitally important that construction firms build these structures using the full scope and requirements laid forth by the engineers and architects, otherwise, there's a very real chance the construction firm can ultimately face a lawsuit over a poorly constructed building.
One of the main causes of RFIs is the lack of communication between architects, engineers, and contractors. As each of these groups becomes more technical and isolated, the less overlap and interaction occurs between them. This siloed nature means the builder at the tail end of the process will need to request information from someone further up the design chain, ultimately leading to a loss of time and working hours.
Contractors who implement construction project management software can effectively eliminate these delays by making RFIs available to all relevant parties instantaneously. With its intuitive user interface, anyone on the team––from the executive to the architect to the subcontractors in the field––can easily snap a photo of the problematic area and upload it to the platform's repository for everyone else to view. Even those individuals who do not have the platform will receive a message alerting them to the issue.
Project managers can then review the RFI in real time and notify the necessary individuals all with a few clicks and swipes from their mobile devices. By ensuring that everyone has real time access to RFIs along with pictures of the request or problematic areas, construction firms reduce the time and manpower associated with this necessary component of the building process, ultimately saving time and money.
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