How to Provide Requests for Information (RFIs)?

Ravindra Ambegaonkar
7 Minutes Read
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    Requests for Information (RFIs) have increasingly become indispensable particularly in all major construction projects. They are, however, versatile to an extent that many MEP Engineers have adopted their use for various purposes. We will focus on the requests for information in constructions that how to issue them in a quest for supplemental information.  

    RFIs play an integral role in the efficient and cost-effective completion of construction projects as they make communication easy between various stakeholders. Without them, residential projects’ quality may be compromised on the basis that, for example, subcontractors do not understand certain specifications or there is missing information. However, note that RFIs are not a substitute of a routine verbal communication as many confuse it. Instead, an RFI is a formal and professional way of soliciting information from stakeholders.

    Whether you are a main contractor or the subcontractor, you should be familiar with the way RFIs are provided. In fact, all stakeholders in a construction project should be well-rounded with how RFIs work as this prevents mistakes that could arise from providing or responding to RFIs. We will unfold the aspects you need to know when providing RFIs.

    What are the contents of the RFI?

    An RFI constitute a formal process through which the subcontractor, main contractor or any stakeholder seeks clarity about certain aspects not inferable or found in original construction contracts. While more efforts are done to ensure that everything is perfect prior to the start of the projects, it happens that some confusions may arise during the workflow. Failure to efficiently communicate such aspects in a timely manner could bring the project to a halt or lead to substandard results which could cost exorbitant amount of money to rectify. For this reason, the importance of an RFI should not to be overlooked.

    Depending on the scale of the project, there could be numerous RFIs provided because large projects, for instance, have many variables. To name a few, RFIs could be classified in the categories below:

    • Requests about a design change – there could be errors in the design that were not immediately spotted before the project starts. An engineer or an architect could be asked to make some changes to the original design.
    • Request for material substitution – if certain material is not available or cost exorbitantly high, an RFI could be issued requesting for material substitutions. Various suppliers could be provided with these requests to find who has the best quality materials for the construction project.
    • Request for clarifications – there could be specifications, conflicts or standards that need clarity during the life of the project, and so a request for information can be used to clarify such aspects.
    • Assessment of supplier’s capabilities to take part in the project; either to provide materials or as participants in the completion of the project. In such cases, RFI often precedes other related documented processes such as RFP, RFT and RFQ. Oftentimes, request for information is issued to obtain general information from various suppliers before the project starts to find out if there is any supplier who can help in problem solving. An issuance of an RFI does not constitute a legally binding contract.

    As indicated, these categories are not all inclusive. An RFI is often misinterpreted by other stakeholders as a random communication that end up replacing verbal communications. Neither should it be used as a submittal or anything outside of its scope.

    Providing RFIs

    When providing RFIs, there are best practices to follow to ensure that the process goes smoothly without significantly varying the scope, delaying the project or incurring costs. Ideally, the RFI comes as a structured form with a specific question and other parameters such as the deadline. There are templates you can follow.

    It is not a best practice to include many questions on a single request as this could cause confusions. Create one request at most for each question so that it becomes easy to track it. But, using hard copy forms is rarely used in this modern era due to the prevalence and emergence of software programs that make it an absolute breeze for all stakeholders to engage simultaneously.

    There are numerous software programs that can make your requests for information manageable in a click of a button.  Administrative Services can help you streamline that, so you can manage the requests in one place without losing any. Providing requests for information is an administrative task that could seem burdensome and distractive to a flow of the work if you do not know how to issue, track and manage them.

    When writing requests for information, follow the simple process highlighted below to prevent confusions that could cause more delays. Construction projects are often done at a cost of loan financing, and so it is important to prevent any possible any possible expenditure not budgeted for by ensuring that you provide the best requests for information. 

    1. Be as concise, specific, and unambiguous as possible for the request to be understood by all. Clearly define the question that has to be addressed by whichever stakeholder directed to. Avoid stating problems instead of the actual questions if you are seeking clarity on certain aspects.
    2. Use visuals to make your request clearer. It could be drawings, videos, images, or sketches, as long as the recipient can clearly understand the questions without initiating a cross-question session in an attempt to understand your questions.
    3. Use a clearly defined pro forma template.
    4. Be considerate of the recipients when providing these requests. For whichever reason that you issue an RFI, take into account the recipients’ time more especially when setting deadlines. Usually, deadlines may range from 1 to 2 weeks.
    5. Propose or recommend possible solutions to expedite the RFI process.

    Benefits of RFIs

    Although they may seem burdensome, RFIs provide many benefits to main contractors and subcontractors. In a nutshell, they have the following benefits:

    • Information is obtained in a formal and structured way
    • Provide clarifications of concepts so the project flows smoothly
    • Provide easy communication between various stakeholders in a certain project
    • Are easily manageable using document management software programs

    RFI vs RFQ and RFP

    The RFI is one of the construction documents: RFP and RFQ. It may not be apparent to a novice that what the difference between these documents are.

    RFI – is a request for supplemental information in a construction project to the information contained in the contracts. RFI is a multi-purpose document as it can also be sent prior to sending RFPs and RFQs to potential suppliers. It actually acts as a filter of suppliers in upcoming project. In such cases where the RFI is sent as a medium to solicit expertise to a particular problem, it should not be viewed as a binding document that constitutes an award or guarantee selection to the project.

    RFP – A request for proposal is issued when the client knows what the problem is, and so they are sending out to potential contractors to select the best one.

    RFQ – this request seeks to assess the pricing competitiveness of different stakeholders. The issuer is looking for the best affordable prices combined with the best quality of service or product offered.

    The description of the RFI depends on the purpose being used for. For instance, if used during construction projects, it can be used to obtain supplemental information from various stakeholders such as engineers, designers, architects, main contractors, suppliers and many more. If used as a precursor to RFP and RFQs, it can function as a process to obtain general information from potential suppliers.

    Wrap up!

    Providing requests for information is a simple process. Basically, an RFI entails a structured form with specific questions to the recipient. Lately, document management software provides a convenient way to manage RFIs on a platform, and this gives you the freedom to track, update and share the requests with many participants at once. Important practices to bear in mind is to always be specific, clear, and unambiguous when providing these requests. Do not ask many questions in a single request for your construction projects.

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    Tags : project management MEP engineers construction management demand side management

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