Supporting the UK farming industry with Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Screen showing Concordia website

At a glance

  • Tech Stack

  • Ruby on Rails
  • MySQL
  • Redis
  • Core Services

  • Web app development
  • Support and maintenance
  • API Integration
  • Additional Services

  • Code & Security Updates
  • Clear Technical Debt
  • Data Analytics & Business Intelligence

The background

Founded in 1943, Concordia is a charity that supports people in developing skills and gaining experiences so that they can thrive.

One of their core services is the Seasonal Workers Programme. The programme aims to support the UK farming industry through the supply of labour, skills and resources while offering people of all ages worldwide the opportunity to work in the UK. Concordia believes that the ethical supply of labour is vital to the UK farming industry and promotes intercultural understanding and peace.

The UK’s seasonal farm workers traditionally came from EU countries visa-free. However, starting in 2021, they require Seasonal Worker visas due to Brexit. In 2021, the team anticipated processing more than three times as many visa applications as usual, which would not have been possible given their team’s size.

The challenge

Concordia asked Bit Zesty to take over the support of their application from an existing development agency and help them ramp up its ability to process visas to meet the requirements of local farms on time.

The previous agency should have updated the Ruby on Rails application, but this had not happened for many years, resulting in a substantial accumulation of technical debt that required attention.

The old visa application process was repetitive, lengthy and error-prone. It allowed a Concordia team member to process a maximum of 25 Seasonal Worker visa applications in one working day. With the peak season starting in March and a forecast of thousands of visas to issue, we had to deliver a solution quickly.

The solution

Our preferred approach would have been to use an API to automatically pull the data from their central application into the Home Office system to allocate visa sponsorship numbers. However, after exploring the capabilities of the Home Office system, we soon realised that it was not an option as it was a legacy system.

In January, after a series of workshops with the Concordia team, we proposed the development of an automation tool called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The purpose of the RPA is to send batches of applications to the Home Office system via Watir, a Ruby automation library that can interact with the browser just like a human would – clicking on links, filling out forms, and validating text. Once the batches are sent, the RPA will sync the issued sponsorship numbers back to Concordia’s system after the payment is made. To ensure a smooth and user-friendly experience, our skilled development and user experience teams worked collaboratively to deliver the RPA tool while integrating the necessary changes to Concordia’s application.

The impact

With the support of Concordia’s team, we were able to have the tool deployed to the production environment within one month. After a couple of weeks of refinements, the application was ready before the start of the peak season.

The Robotic Process Automation tool helped Concordia issue over 3,500 CoS numbers in under two months. It ensured they could meet the farms’ needs without increasing their workforce.

We are now working with Concordia to enhance the tool further and generate reports that give Concordia’s team more visibility and control over the process.

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