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Anke Odrig: Revolutionising the nursery search

© Anke Odrig

10. June 2021

With waiting lists as long as your arm and countless phone calls, for many parents the search for a nursery place is a nerve-wracking marathon with an uncertain outcome. An experience that was also shared by Anke Odrig. Which was why the former SAP manager developed LITTLE BIRD: a software program that makes it easier for parents to search for, and municipalities to manage, nursery places.

Name: Anke Odrig

Age: Born in 1975

Occupation: Managing director

Website:  www.little-bird.de

What is  LITTLE BIRD?

LITTLE BIRD is an IT company based in Berlin. Our software product is revolutionising the registration for allocation and management of nursery places. We ensure that parents have better and fairer chances of finding a nursery place, that nurseries are relieved of their daily administrative tasks and that municipal administrations can shape the future of their childcare provision both reliably and digitally. Using this process, more than 8,000 nurseries, almost 1,800 providers and over 250 towns and local authorities are currently organising the registration, allocation and administration procedures of their day care for children – in a binding, legally compliant and privacy compliant manner.

How did the idea come about?

In 2006, I was looking for a nursery place for my first son and was shocked by the deluge of forms, the uncertainty and the lack of transparency. As a frequent traveller, I was already used to being able to book flights, tickets, hotels and everything else involving limited space online. It quickly became clear to me that the rigid structures, paper-based bureaucracy and complicated pathways were negatively affecting not only the parents, but also the local authorities, administrations, providers and nurseries. In response, I decided to create a comprehensive digital solution for all the parties involved and launched LITTLE BIRD in 2009.

„For parents, using LITTLE BIRD mainly means a huge leap in transparency.”

Anke Odrig, Developer of LITTLE BIRD

How does LITTLE BIRD make the time-consuming and nerve-wracking search for nursery places easier for parents?

For parents, using LITTLE BIRD mainly means a huge leap in transparency. Queuing up at the door of kindergartens, waiting for people to get back to you, leaving messages on answering machines, sending unanswered e-mails and the repeated filling out of registration forms at different kindergartens are now a thing of the past. Parents can now research the profiles of the nurseries in their area online and use a lot of possible filters to choose the right institution. All online registrations for a child then end up on a networked waiting list. LITTLE BIRD offers more equal opportunities in the allocation process, because one child can only get one offer for a place at a time and not a whole load, forcing other families to leave empty-handed or wait a very long time. However, it’s also very important for parents to document their requirements. At the end of the process, parents also get proof via the digital service if the childcare isn’t going to work out in time and they have to clarify what the next steps are going to look like. In this way, LITTLE BIRD reinforces the rights of the parents who are searching.

How does the portal benefit local authorities and nurseries?

On the LITTLE BIRD portal, nurseries advertise their individual institutions in a clearly organised and filterable way, for example according to opening hours or educational orientation. This optimises matching, because the nurseries will then only get requests for places from those parents who identify with what they provide. This makes waiting lists shorter per se. The allocation of places then takes place in one round, because all waiting lists are networked and automatically adjusted as soon as a child has been given a place. Administrations or youth welfare offices in cities and local authorities, providers and nurseries primarily work with the administration software, which creates a common database in the background and maps everything related to communication, contracts, billing, statistics, proof and more. The result is a seamless digital process from registration to the end of the contract. Our cities and local authorities know exactly where there’s a shortage of places or how many and which children can’t be catered for. With this database, appropriate expansion plans can be mapped much more precisely in the needs planning stage and assistance provided in specific cases.

How has LITTLE BIRD developed since its foundation in 2009?

Having had to do a lot of convincing in the town halls and local authorities in the early years to get them to trust a start-up from Berlin and invest in the future with LITTLE BIRD, we launched our pilot project in the town of Heidenau in Saxony in 2010. It took us another four years – until 2014 – to get another five local authorities on board; it was pretty hard going at the time. Since then, LITTLE BIRD has literally gone through the roof, to the point that we’re now being used by over 250 local authorities in ten federal states. Several new ones being are added every month, including major cities such as Cologne and Hanau, but also small authorities with only a few institutions. We see our strength in the continuous development with the local authorities of what we offer and the features and possibilities you have with LITTLE BIRD.

And the biggest challenge was...

In each federal state or even every town, there are a lot of idiosyncrasies that can often make your head hurt when you’re using a standard approach throughout Germany. Every local authority should be able to find its place n the system under the given circumstances. We then have to look very closely at each individual case to satisfy everyone’s wishes. All configurations are coordinated and discussed with our municipal clients. Sometimes it’s even the case that fewer possibilities are exhausted than the system actually offers. For example, LITTLE BIRD might be able to record an unlimited number of registrations of searching parents, but the towns can only use three or four of them. This causes parents to direct their incomprehension and confusion at the software, but it’s really up to the municipalities to decide how they want to use the system for themselves. Not taking this personally is still a challenge, as we actually set out to provide the best possible service to parents.

At your company headquarters in Berlin, of all places, the portal is not yet available. What’s the problem in the capital?

We’ve been talking to the key Berlin players in the field of digitalisation for years now. Many of them are completely on the side of LITTLE BIRD, but Berlin has opted for a specially developed solution. We get a lot of feedback from parents in Berlin which isn’t positive. We’re convinced that LITTLE BIRD and Berlin would fit together very well, because the problems experienced by parents, nurseries and providers that we’re always hearing about would easily be solved by LITTLE BIRD. Much better than they are now.

What's next for LITTLE BIRD?

Of course, we’d welcome it if LITTLE BIRD were to be available to searching parents throughout Germany, regardless of how far the individual local authorities have got with digitalisation. That's what we're working on right now. We’d also like to offer other services to make life easier for parents: Our KIKOM app for communication with the institutions is brand new – and it’s very important in the age of coronavirus, for example, to be able to call in sick with one click or pass on new information quickly.

Which digital product has yet to be invented?

A customisable search app for everything, not just keys and mobile phones. I’m always looking for something.

And which products can you do without?

E-book readers, because if I ever find time to read, then I prefer holding a real book in my hands.

Would you like a household robot?

Yes, definitely, to fold mountains of laundry. The washing and drying is working pretty well, but at the moment we’re lacking a household assistant to fold the clean laundry and put it away.

Which technical application will always remain a mystery for you?

The printer. Since the beginning of my professional life, I’ve found myself at loggerheads, as it were, with every single one of the many models I’ve ever used.

When were you last offline for 24 hours?

Two years ago, in the summer, for almost five days – this was absolutely intentional and meticulously prepared.

A holiday without Wi-Fi: Is that a dream or a nightmare?

As I said, we deliberately booked a hiking holiday without Wi-Fi and other electrical devices in 2019. In the years before that, we always went to Sweden; there, too, you could at least have a short digital break, because Wi-Fi just wasn’t available in every remote corner. Two years ago, we wanted one hundred percent to see whether it would still work to completely do without mobile phones laptops and TV. To ensure that we wouldn’t be murdered by our four boys in the first few hours, we deliberately booked an activity holiday and relocated the experiment to the Austrian alps. Everything started to improve by the second day, and we had some very full-on and lovely family time.

 

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