Picturing the massive information flow on a typical large-scale commercial construction project can be a daunting proposition. Take requests for information (RFI), for example, which can span from hundreds on a smaller project to thousands on bigger, more complex projects.
Today, there are plenty of software solutions that promise to help construction teams tackle the proliferation of RFIs and manage the related workflows. However, even more promising than the vision of streamlined RFI management is a future where RFIs aren’t needed at all.
While this may sound like wishful thinking, envision a world where construction teams could cut down on 50%, or even 75% of RFIs on a given project. Even smaller reductions in RFIs could introduce transformative benefits for the way we build.
Playing the RFI Waiting Game
Why do RFIs even occur in the first place? Most (albeit, not all) stem from information—specifically a lack of it.
When workers on site need critical information or clarification to move forward, they initiate an RFI. This can occur when a subcontractor discovers a discrepancy in drawings or perhaps they find a key detail was left out of their original contract scope. In both of these cases, the subcontractor works quickly to submit an RFI to the general contractor, which begins a lengthy waiting game.
The average response time to an RFI is 9.7 days, and that’s if a response is even given. Typically, if a general contractor is unable to provide satisfactory or timely information, the subcontractor forwards the RFI to the architect or engineer responsible for the project design, which can stall jobsite work even further until the needed information becomes available.
The “hurry up and wait” RFI timeline interrupts project momentum. While the primary purpose of an RFI is to reduce the need for time-consuming and expensive rework, the process itself is time-consuming and negatively impacts schedules and budgets. And the costs can be huge: on average, there are 9.9 RFIs for each $1 million of construction worldwide, costing a typical large-scale construction project almost $900,000 in RFI processing. Just as bad, the project team’s morale is affected by an RFI pile-up.
Technology undeniably helps streamline this workflow, but the RFI waiting game still results in wasteful practices that are better off being left behind. Project team members on a jobsite should already have access to all the information they need immediately at their fingertips.
By eliminating—not just automating—wasteful processes, we can pave the way for wider profit margins, resulting in more resilient companies and a more sustainable construction industry.
How Teams Can Leave Behind Their Broken Workflows
As construction teams eliminate inefficient procedures that cost them time and money, they can instead devote more energy towards high-value activities that grow their bottom line.
Here are a few shifts that need to happen to break out of unproductive cycles and transform how architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) works:
Lean Into the Principles of Connected Construction
“Connected construction” refers to a vision for the built environment where technology helps stakeholders communicate effectively and workflows are optimized throughout the entire lifecycle of a building, from design all the way through to long-term operations.
Workflow efficiency and enhanced communication are wonderful outcomes, but what isn’t discussed as frequently as these results are the elements needed to make a project connected: data and insights.
Why are stakeholders so often disconnected from these two elements in the first place? This usually stems from missing or outdated information, and teams and data that exist in silos. As exemplified in the case of RFIs, a lack of information creates an entirely superfluous process that negatively impacts time, morale, and most critically, margins.
At its core, connected construction is about creating "roundtrip information." For teams to become more efficient and reduce “wasteful” behavior, project data needs to be highly visible and easily discoverable, up-to-date, and distilled for actionable insights.
Build Stronger Ties Between Design and Preconstruction
A common data environment (CDE) is critical to connecting data, workflows, and teams, starting in the earliest phases of design, onto execution, and into operations. Instead of multiple-point solutions, a CDE that stores all project data, including information across integrated applications, will benefit teams as they bridge the gaps between the design and preconstruction phases.
Preconstruction uniquely offers the biggest opportunity to reduce or eliminate wasteful processes and de-risk a project. Done right, preconstruction gives teams the ability to simulate the job—i.e., have a digital rehearsal—before ground breaks. When teams can forge strong connections between information, workflows, and stakeholders during the earliest planning phase, efficient preconstruction becomes a competitive advantage.
Consider this: a typical $100 million project takes 30 months in design and preconstruction (and only 18 months to build). During this period, the project is exposed to many different types of risk, including design creep and price escalations, which can compromise project timelines and budgets.
Teams can avoid these challenges through integrated design. By connecting the design phase with downstream phases such as quantity takeoff, scoping, estimating, and buyout, they can effectively convert ideas into tangible construction plans. This approach fosters greater cost and schedule predictability while streamlining the construction lifecycle.
The Start of a Larger Transformation
Wasteful processes like RFIs won’t disappear overnight. But what if teams could cut them down by even 25%? The time and budget savings alone would significantly change what we’ve come to expect as typical industry margins.
RFIs are only one example. What if teams were able to reduce issues in the field and streamline their resolution? Instead of using technology to simply manage schedule changes, think of the time and resources companies could save by creating schedule certainty upfront. The list of possibilities—wasteful processes to eliminate—goes on.
This vision starts at the beginning: by shaking up and digitizing the entire construction system as it exists today, we can optimize it for the future. The time is now to invest in connected processes that set up teams for success from the start. This is the direction the industry is heading in, once teams are ready to embrace it.