How to respond to request for proposal (RFP)

Introduction

It can be said that the digitalization of construction began with designers moving from drawing boards to computers. [1] In Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Operation (ACEO), the focus has shifted with the industry embedding Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Management and digital technologies.

I the past year, businesses, faced an immediate shift in organisational structure following the outburst of the COVID 19 epidemic. Almost all organisations worldwide moved all their operations from a central point to distributed network of employees who worked remotely from home.

The epidemic has impacted global health and the economy, caused an instant shift of business processes, use and reliance on technology, speed up the implementation of digital technologies and cross-platform exchange of information. The change allowed the realisation of potential organisational opportunities, i.e., waste reduction, improved communication, and accelerated cultural change.

However, it also increased the risk of cybersecurity attacks.

From September 2019 to August 2020, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) noted a nearly ten per cent rise in cyber-attacks than the previous period. From the total reported 723 incidents of all kinds, 194 were Covid-related. [2]

Smart, connected technologies transform how we manage our businesses, design, manufacture, use and maintain parts, products, and the entire build environment. The rapid technological developments refer ambiguously to Industry 4.0 [3], a term described by K. Schwab, (2017)[4] as a subset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution consisting of technologies, software, and processes that are usually not associated with the AECO Industry. Nevertheless, the new technological advancements bind the physical, digital, and biological worlds and create an opportunity for the AECO Industry.

AECO has realised the potential of the additive nature of the interrelated technology and processes offering better management workflows importantly technologically reinforced and optimised information exchange.

This article is not a consultant’s response to Request for Proposal (RFP). The intention is to provide critical analysis of the RFP response describing several strategies that can be implemented by any organisation that aspires to establish a sustainable digital construction framework with an overreaching competitive theme in a given market to ensure that the organisation stays current.[5]

Objectives, constraints and opportunities

Objectives

The main objective of RFP reply is to provide a customer-focused clear response centered around customer-specific challenges and tailored solutions. The response shall not be treated as a sales pitch but treated as a fact-finding assignment that adheres to the specified scope without unnecessary information.  Consultants responding to an RFP shall ensure that all requirements are established and interpreted correctly; thus, any items requiring clarification should be questioned before the specified deadline.

Technology use – future strategy

Consultants shall consider using AI technology such as IBM Watson RFP Advisor. Part of the IBM Decision Advisor program allows automatic cognitive analysis of the RFP to help establish requirements, risks and highlight duplicated or conflicting information, helping to establish a custom strategy tailored to the client’s specific goals. [6]

An example of the IBM Watson RFP Advisor cognitive analysis process is shown in Figure 1

Figure 1 – IBM Watson RFP Advisor,  cognitive RFP analysis example [7]

Identification of the objectives and risks will support forming of a tailored framework; in this report, the author depicts an example of areas to be considered shown in Figure 2

Figure 2 – RFP Response strategy example

The response shall also identify any potential plans for future expansion; even if not explicitly stated, clarifications shall be requested.

Horizontal and Vertical Integration

Vertical integration and horizontal integration are both business strategies that companies use to consolidate their position against competitors.

Organisations can be horizontally diversified, with considerable breadth, or vertically integrated, with great depth. While vertical integration focuses on strengthening and levelling out organisational processes, horizontal integration aims to increase the size and business scale. [8]

Literature suggests that although vertical integration facilitates implementing systemic innovations, new roles and changes to the organisational system.  It may hinder implementation due to imposed responsibility of the new role. [9]

If the objective included in the RFP is to implement horizontal integration, focusing on sustainability and efficient digital information exchange within the organisation’s downstream supply chain. Thus the RFP response shall consider the interdependence between a portfolio of project types and leverage the similar resources and capabilities, for example, apply a single strategy to manage different types of projects.[10]

Implementation plan

The implementation strategy shall consider critical needs and challenges; examples of key elements are shown in Figure 3

Figure 3 – Implementation strategy key areas

The RFP response must consider specified milestones, such as the desired ISO 19650 accreditation or staff training within the first year of implementation.

The reply shall include an execution schedule with key contacts and milestones based on the agreed or assumed start date after the RFP’s final selection announcement. The consultant shall also include guidance of all resources required to successfully implement the strategy, for example, current process documentation, training timelines, user roles, or administrator feedback.

Moreover, the implementation plan should contain an overview of the contracting process and post-contract support after its execution; the process shall also contain a feedback scheme to demonstrate how the proposed strategy can adapt to the unforeseen and specific client’s needs.[11]

Figure 4 – RFP Response Implementation Schedule

An example of an implementation strategy schedule is shown in Figure 4

Priority areas for implementation

Accreditation

If the client has specified BS EN ISO 19650 accreditation as a priority target, to be implemented within the first year parallel with the training scheme. By inserting training as the priority item, the client demonstrates recognition of education’s value, which is critical for successfully implementing BIM-associated technology and processes.

The consultant in the response shall reinforce the potential benefits of the accreditation, which enables to differentiate the organisational skills and demonstrate credentials concerning the industry-recognised standard.

The direct benefits of official recognition are the impartial evidence confirming that the organisation can deliver BIM projects. The indirect benefits of accreditation are the organisational change required and leading to potential faster and efficient processes, thus increasing productivity by avoiding rework costs and waste and reducing uncertainty.

Moreover, the accreditation can improve organisational cost control, improve safety, and greater chances to secure Government contracts. Likewise, it can enable a basis for measurement of client satisfaction, thus gaining a competitive edge when bidding for BIM tenders. [12]

The objective of the certification is to ensure the requirements of the management standard are effectively addressed by the organisation’s management system and to confirm the forward strategic plan.

The consultant shall clarify that gaining the accreditation itself does not mean that all the benefits will be realized by default. For the organisation to truly benefit from digitisation and BIM training, organisational structure change is required.

Thus, the consultant responding to RFP shall support their client to ensure that the organisation can establish clear goals, help construct the framework and implement all necessary organisational changes.

Training Strategy

A training strategy is required to understand BIM tools and processes that are crucial for a BIM implementation success. Developing a comprehensive training program based on the specific organisational needs is critical for improvement.

The consultant should propose tailored modular training implemented strategically to focus on specific team or individuals at a defined time to accelerate the introduction of BIM to avoid undue overwhelming the client’s team and allow for better cost control instead of providing general training for everyone.

Organisational Structure

According to Penn State University, road mapping is the best process of representing the integration of strategic changes into business workflows. Roadmaps communicate vital components of an organisation’s strategic plan to employees, customers and the supply chain. The consultant shall develop a client-based BIM strategy for the organisation; it is essential to understand the steps required to develop the roadmap and reach the organisational goal. [13]

Implementation of agile organisational structure challenges the traditional framework planning by requiring fast development sprints and incremental progress-based planning. It also introduces many new solutions and vendors, causing a more fragmented enterprise structure. Digitalisation utilizes the business environment to implement processes and information flow over organisational boundaries.

Traditional frameworks do not support the ecosystem approach and therefore is not optimal for planning digitalisation. The Business Technology Standard proposes a comprehensive capability planning approach, placing environment planning in a central position. The modularity of this approach depicted in Figure 5 allows a more agile development of planning for different business areas. [14]

Figure 5 – The enterprise architecture-centric capability planning

Roles and Responsibilities

BIM roles are not necessarily related to specialist positions. It should be viewed as a function that could be fulfilled by more than one person and allow the transfer of the functions between individuals holistically. [15]

Reinforcing the client’s aim to implement horizontal integration, the strategy should include reviewing existing teams’ capacity and capability to undertake additional function and facilitating training to upskill the organisation and their downstream supply chain.

The functions shall consider a fulfilment strategy for management, creation, distribution, utilization, and archiving of a large amount of information due to be generated as the information exchange is implemented. [16]

Resources

A technological upgrade plan will help meet the organisational software and hardware requirements with an implementation strategy and cost control. It is essential to take a gradual and scalable approach to upgrades and develop a roll-out schedule based on the implementation strategies to support BIM system development.

It is essential to note that BIM roles that may be required are not necessarily related to specialist positions. They can also be developed and allow one person to play more than one role and be exercised by more than one person.[17]

Legal Obligations

Consideration of Intelectual property (IP) rights

Given that the party responding to the RFP has the required capability, the guidance provided can be invaluable for the long and short term. It is in the interests of the appointing party, i.e. to retain the ability to extract and reuse the guidance in its entirety or an extracted parts without limitations. The RFP respondee might be reluctant

to consent to the full transfer of the related IP rights because they might want to reuse elements created during the RFP response for future applications or different clients.

Thus both parties must find common ground.

When IP rights have not been considered in the RFP, the consultant must provide appropriate guidance by demonstrating competency and protecting the interests of both parties and enabling mutual understanding.

If IP rights have not been defined, both parties should establish the purpose for which the information may be used and consider options such as:

If the client clearly state the purpose and request from the respondee a ‘perpetual’ never-ending copyright license under common law to use the information. Although the inclusion of the term ‘never-ending ‘removes the common law implied allowance for terminating the license, it does not mean that it cannot be revoked by mutual agreement, by operation of law (breach of contract) or unintentionally. For example, by operation of law upon the dissolving of the company.

Parties should be aware that revoking an intellectual property licence agreement is different from revoking the intellectual property rights themselves. For example, under section 72 of the Patents Act 1977, patents can be revoked if granted in respect of a non-patentable invention or if the patent was granted to someone who was not entitled to grant the patent. [18]

Government funding

While architects and engineers raise the bar for innovation, the construction industry develops new processes and technical solutions that could qualify for tax credits for research and development.

Innovative building materials are used to create more reliable and energy-efficient structures. Organisations providing design and construction services using new or innovative construction techniques and engineers and architects providing construction services are entitled to tax credits for research and development.

For example, many activities required to design and build new buildings or improve existing structures meet the requirements for tax credits for research and development (R&D), especially for engineers, architects and other consultants for design services.

This includes planning, engineering, design, construction, procurement and construction management, and construction technology.[19]

In the United States, Congress has passed tax credits for research and development to encourage companies to keep technical jobs. Companies that qualify in other countries such as United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also use the government’s research and development tax credit. [20]

The internet of things (IoT)

According to an article by the University of Pennsylvania in 2018, the implementation of IoT was growing exponentially due to numerous new technological developments [21].

Even though the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic activation of new connected devices worldwide is growing, according to Statista, it is expected that there will be more than 30 billion IoT connections by 2025. [22]

Although the IoT consists of a wide range of technologies and uses cases that do not have a clear, uniform definition, the manufacturers must equip the device with reasonable security features. [23]  

The IoT devices that previously had no digital capabilities becoming equipped with sensors, CPUs, and network connections, allowing data to gain insights and increase functionality and knowledge. IoT as a platform has the capacity to improve the environment, quality of life and health and safety. Thus to prepare for future public health emergencies and address climate change, governments and organisations need to embrace new technologies. [24]

Many organisations have already begun to use IoT applications. They are trying to learn how to implement the technology because it increases productivity, improve interaction with objects while maintaining and enhancing the organizational processes.

It enables new scenarios that were not possible before and improves existing processes, productivity, and efficiency. IoT is characterized by a network-connected device embedded in the physical environment and connected to a network of other devices such as sensors, computers, and network connections. Devices connect to the network to collect information from environmental sensors and enable other systems to access the world and act as actuators. [25]

The next step in development is a cognitive IoT, which facilitates the reuse of object data across application areas and uses semantically enriched information distribution. The Architectural Reference Model (ARM) allows vertically closed system architecture and application areas to be combined and create open and integrated environments to develop intelligent devices and applications. This represents an opportunity that software companies can seize to develop consumer-oriented platforms, including hardware, software and services. [26]

Cyber Security

Cyber attacks on industrial control systems (ICS) are particularly dangerous because the attack takes place in the system’s runtime memory. There is no single measure that can protect organisations from these attacks, but a combination of all.

In general, industrial cybersecurity experts recommend a deep-sea defence strategy to prevent the villains from penetrating ICS networks. The concept involves the idea that once an attacker has overcome a layer of defence, subsequent layers of defensive tactics present additional challenges that the attacker must overcome. [27]

Stuxnet was developed to self-destruct in June 2012 and triggered a similar virus, called Duqu; this one created files to gain general remote access that helped the attackers gather information to help future attacks against third parties. [28]

Future Strategies

Software Robotics

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as software robotics, sets up consistent, automated systems that do not require human intervention. RPA tools such as the IBM Watson RFP Advisor presented in Figure 1 allow the use of automation technologies to mimic human activities such as data extraction, filling in forms, moving files. The platform or application may include artificial intelligence to do most of the administrative work, which often involves repetitive effort.  Because RPA systems can be programmed to follow specific workflow rules, accuracy and compliance with regulatory standards, human error is reduced.

Automation technologies such as RPA can access this information to better integrate with other applications than frontend integrations due to better frontend integration. [29]

Social media

The unconventional entrepreneur, marketing and business genius Gary Vaynerchuk advise on going beyond traditional methods and use social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to reach an untapped audience.

The platform’s algorithms can target stakeholders, allow brand building or sharing Research and Development (R&D) discoveries, thus increasing organisational competitiveness, eventually contributing to the realisation of potential Return on Investment (ROI). [30]

Summary

The increasing complexity of the built environment and technology-related processes sometimes impede digital transformation. Thus it is useful to focus on commonalities utilizing the opportunities related to the modularity of processes.[31]

This report focused on the innovative strategies and academic research on information management, purpose and value, which can be offered to prospective clients who are considering the execution of digital technologies.

In today’s world, companies face the challenge of anticipating ever-changing resource and technology demands; thus, the consultant response shall be specific, raise awareness of their potential clients to the solutions, future developments, and risks.

A proposed framework should take into account training, empower and motivate organisations to engage in technology adoption. The proposal shall assist visualisation of the potential of strategic value and bring a sense of ownership, which will generate invaluable feedback and drive necessary updates to the framework.

The potential clients will most likely favour an unambiguous value-driven adoption roadmap , based on the specific organisational needs.

[1]      C. Boton and D. Forgues, “Construction 4.0 The next revolution in the construction industry.” (accessed Dec. 29, 2020).

[2]      NCSC, “Annual Review 2020 Making the UK the safest place to live and work online,” 2020. Accessed: Apr. 17, 2021. [Online].

[3]      J. Mansfield, “Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 The Journey for the Construction Industry,” Mar. 03, 2020. (accessed Dec. 29, 2020).

[4]      K. Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Currency, 2017.

[5]      C. Hill, Strategic Management: Theory & Cases: An Integrated Approach, 12th ed. Cengage Learning, 2016.

[6]      IBM, “Decision Advisor | IBM.” (accessed May 10, 2021).

[7]      P. Surin, “(1307) Watson RFP Advisor – YouTube,” Sep. 22, 2020. (accessed May 10, 2021).

[8]      S. Surbhi, “Difference Between Horizontal and Vertical Integration (with Example and Comparison Chart) – Key Differences,” Jul. 26, 2018. (accessed May 11, 2021).

[9]      T. Lehtinen, “Boundaries Matter-The Pros and Cons of Vertical Integration in BIM Implementation,” pp. 578–585, 2011, doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-33980-6_62ï.

[10]    F. Brahm, A. Parmigiani, and J. Tarziján, “Can Firms Be Both Broad and Deep? Exploring Interdependencies Between Horizontal and Vertical Firm Scope,” Journal of Management, vol. 47, no. 5, pp. 1219–1254, May 2021, doi: 10.1177/0149206320912296.

[11]    P. Criss, “How to Write a Winning RFP Response: Best Practices – RFP360,” Oct. 2020. (accessed May 04, 2021).

[12]    BSI, “BIM – Building Information Modeling Certification.” (accessed May 08, 2021).

[13]    J. Messner et al., “Strategic Planning for BIM Implementation,” CIC Research Group, Penn State, May 2019. Accessed: May 08, 2021. [Online].

[14]    BT Standard, “Enterprise Architecture.” (accessed May 11, 2021).

[15]    F. Muñoz-La Rivera, J. C. Vielma, R. F. Herrera, and J. Carvallo, “Methodology for Building Information Modeling (BIM) Implementation in Structural Engineering Companies (SECs),” Advances in Civil Engineering, vol. 2019, 2019, doi: 10.1155/2019/8452461.

[16]    B. Hardin and D. McCool, BIM and construction management: proven tools, methods, and workflows, Second Edition. Indiana: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

[17]    F. Muñoz, L. Rivera, J. C. Vielma, R. F. Herrera, and J. Carvallo, “Methodology for Building Information Modeling (BIM) Implementation in Structural Engineering Companies (SECs),” 2019, doi: 10.1155/2019/8452461.

[18]    Lexis PSL, “What are perpetual, irrevocable and royalty-free licences?,” Nov. 01, 2018. (accessed Apr. 17, 2021).

[19]    J. Feingold, “R&D Tax Credit Incentives for Contractors,” Oct. 29, 2020. (accessed May 08, 2021).

[20]    I. Large & Gilbert, “Tax Credits for Construction Contractors –.” (accessed May 08, 2021).

[21]    University of Pennsylvania, “Leveraging the Internet of Things for Competitive Advantage – Knowledge@Wharton,” Mar. 2016. (accessed May 08, 2021).

[22]    L. S. Vailshery, “Global IoT and non-IoT connections 2010-2025,Statista, Mar. 08, 2021. (accessed May 08, 2021).

[23]    Secretary of State, Bill Text – SB-327 Information privacy: connected devices. California Secretary of State , 2018.

[24]    L. Rosencrance, “How Smart Environments Will Take Shape Post-COVID-19 – IoT World Today,” Apr. 14, 2021. (accessed May 05, 2021).

[25]    Google Cloud, “Technical overview of Internet of Things  |  Cloud Architecture Center.” (accessed May 05, 2021).

[26]    A. Bassi et al., Enabling Things to Talk. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2013.

[27]    W. Iversen, “Defending Against the Next Stuxnet | Automation World,” Oct. 01, 2010. (accessed May 05, 2021).

[28]    DEFENSEWORLD, “McAfee Working To Protect Critical Infrastructure Against Stuxnet Type Viruses,” Jul. 16, 2012. (accessed May 05, 2021).

[29]    IBM Cloud Education, “What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? | IBM,” Oct. 22, 2020. (accessed May 05, 2021).

[30]    G. Vaynerchuk, CRUSHING IT!, First Edition. New York: HarperBusiness.

[31]    B. Succar and M. Kassem, “Macro-BIM adoption: Conceptual structures,” Automation in Construction, vol. 57, pp. 64–79, Sep. 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.autcon.2015.04.018.

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