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Sometime in the 19th century, construction became too technical for the archaic class of “master builders,” creating the need for three types of specialists: architects, engineers and contractors. With this divide also came the need for legal documentation of construction projects and what is now know as requests for information (RFIs).

RFIs have a major time and cost impact on the global construction industry. While researching nearly 1,400 projects that started between 2001 and 2012, the Navigant Construction Forum (NCF) found:
  • On average, there are 9.9 RFIs for each $1 million of construction worldwide.
  • In the United States, it takes an average of eight days before a submitted RFI receives its first response. The median response time is 12 days.
  • The longer a project lasts, the longer it takes for a first reply. For projects shorter than one year, the average response time is seven days, whereas the response time nearly doubles for projects lasting longer than five years.
  • In the Americas, one out of every four RFIs received no replies.
NCF also calculated the estimated total time and cost that RFIs had on the projects. Each project had an average of 796 RFIs and reported around eight hours of review and response time for each one. This means the estimated total time expended on RFIs per project was 6,368 hours. The estimated total cost of RFIs per project was $859,680.

NCF followed up its study with three main recommendations for mitigating the costs associated with a high number of RFIs. The first recommendation is to incorporate clarifying contract language into the general conditions of the contract documents. Contract definitions should distinguish between “drawing clarification,” “request for information,” “request for substitution” and other terms to prevent misunderstandings and delays in the RFI process. This way, RFIs will be processed as RFIs, and other requests will follow their own separate processes.

In addition to clear definitions, contract language should include an RFI clause to establish the processes for handling RFIs, including their submittals, timings and responses.

The second recommendation is to implement electronic RFI tracking and monitoring for every project, including centralization and easy access, standard forms and required fields. What one team member submits, others should be able to easily comment upon.  A cloud-hosted server makes this possible, allowing mobile devices to access and add information from practically anywhere. Just as importantly, RFIs in the system should be easy to group and sort by any attribute, such as type, due date or status.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of RFI software, especially for those with mobile integration, is the ability to link documents, sketches and markups to the same RFI number. Keeping all the information linked is essential for saving time and eliminating confusion. This also helps when it comes to monitoring the progress of RFIs and keeping response times as short as possible. Automatic reminders or alarms can be set to ensure that RFIs are completed in a timely manner.

The advantages of RFI software go beyond ease of coordination and communication. With good RFI tracking software, project teams should be able to identify potential schedule or cost impacts early and easily, leading to significant time and cost savings for all parties.

Lastly, NCF recommends instituting a system of RFI best management practices. For example, stipulate that RFIs should reference specific drawing numbers or sections of drawings, as well as graphic representations such as photographs or sketches to eliminate confusion by keeping all project team members on the same page.

RFIs do not have to be such a time-consuming and expensive part of construction. With the right tools, software and implementation, RFI processes can be streamlined and their associated costs can be lowered.   

Ralph Gootee is co-founder and CTO of PlanGrid. For more information, visit www.plangrid.com.

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