Ingrid Pappel: For e-future without paper bureaucracy
Professional and ambitious, PhD, Assoc. Prof. Ingrid Pappel is a Head of e-Governance Technologies and Services MSc programme at TalTech. She is also an active entrepreneur — the partner, head of the records management department and the chief designer at Interinx ltd (www.amphora.ee) since 1996. Besides that Ingrid has been actively involved in diverse projects aimed at consulting various countries on digitizing governments and going paperless, in cooperation with Estonian e-Governance Academy.
In our interview, Ingrid shared the story of her passion for career and research.
At the origins of e-Governance in Estonia
I graduated from TalTech with the Master’s in IT and later defended my PhD here. I have been working in the sphere of digital transformation since 2002 dealing with different digital systems and solutions in public sector. Thus, I have been a practitioner in the field of e-Governance for approximately ten years.
In 2011 I started working on establishment of a new international programme e-Governance Technologies and Services at TalTech. Based on my own interdisciplinary experiences, this programme centres on the transition to e-governance in various disciplines and combines administration, IT, legal and economic perspectives. Thanks to our unique academic curriculum and lecturers-practitioners in the field, we have been successfully fulfilling our goal of educating future leaders in digital transformation, in both public and private sectors for almost 9 years by now.
Before I stepped on the path of my current career, I used to be a state broker and later a founder of an IT company. Back then in 1995–1996 we didn’t have any real-estate portals in Estonia, so anyone who wanted to rent or sell a property had to deal with announcements in papers. I saw a great opportunity there, plus I hated papers (Ingrid is laughing) and it pushed me to start something new of my own. Thus, the first software of my company was created for real-estate companies to enable them to insert their property descriptions. It was the very first step towards the idea of digitalizing documentation. In 2002 we bought document measurement system for the company, it was not a proper software yet, but the concept was there. Once the company that had provided it to us went bankrupt, I started to design document measurement solution for governments myself. To cut a long story short, this is how I became involved in e-governance processes for the first time. I have developed and implemented the EDMS Amphora (launch of digital document and records management) in more than 100 local governments. It was my first success story in the field.
Currently many countries in the world are paper-based and the process of digitalisation still takes place there. In Estonia we were through it in early 2000s and it is this fact among other things that makes us pioneers and experts in the field of e-Governance. Estonia is a tech-savvy country, where Internet is a human right.
Here we are approaching the second wave of digitalisation, characterised by AI and automatisation. It means decision-making processes are automated and the government becomes more invisible providing essential services based on the citizen’s data. Other countries that have not achieved that level still have to get there.
Overall, the process of digital transformation is not as straightforward as it may seem, because the transformation does not happen one-to-one by simply turning a paper copy into a digital one. Many things have to be re-designed involving organizational, structural and legal changes and re-evaluation of the existing processes and their functionality.
Therefore, digitalisation takes longer in some countries than in others highly depending on cultural background of the country.
I am an adept of a soft approach, in a sense that not everything has to be digitalised just for the sake of it. When it comes to individual services, it is important they are provided in a proper way, and if citizens are happy why change it. In other words, human factor is crucial and many decisions in this field require a generous share of empathy. Life is not black-and-white and so we only need to introduce changes where they are reasonable. Thankfully, in our programme we have enough expertise from the specialists for decades involved in every step of developing and implementing digital solutions in Estonia in order to assess the situation wisely.
At TalTech I am a head of the international Master’s programme e-Governance Technologies and Services. Besides this, I am lecturing three courses from the curriculum.
· Information Management and Digital Archiving is the course that aims to give a general overview, knowledge and understanding of how information life cycle management issues are linked with business processes as well as to (digital) archiving in theory and practice.
· Information Society Concepts and Principles course explains the core of the information society, and describes the role of e-Governance in it. General info-political principles, organizational setup, management of e-governance, legal framework, financing of e-governance systems and services as well as technical architecture are discussed in this context
I am a proponent of a problem-based learning and I most definitely prefer seminars to lectures. In fact, I don’t like classical lecturing style that much, because I want students to participate actively in solving problems. I really like interaction, meaning students have to learn to talk in order to show and argument their opinion. Typically in our courses, students work in teams, trying to find solutions for real-life problems given to them within a certain project. This way, we truly try to relate the theoretical part with the practical one.
Our courses unite students from different countries, for whom we organize different formats of work, for instance hackathons, all with the purpose to teach them to pitch, to present themselves, their ideas and projects. I also involve my students into on-going projects so they can come back to their countries having actual practical experience in their field.
We have many great and successful students at both Master’s and PhD levels. Actually, we have a very high number of PhD students and I am really proud of my thesis projects. When it comes to teaching Masters, in my opinion all good Master’s thesis have to be published, and I am proud that in that sense we are quite successful, demonstrating high publication numbers each year.
Importantly, we keep in touch with our students after graduation. We are eager to know how they are using the knowledge acquired in the programme and how their careers are developing. So, each year we even gather our alumni together to have some fun and keep each other updated.
Besides being a head of Master’s programme I am actively involved in the research. My key focus lies in the field of information management, concentrating on digital document and records management in order to improve e-governance solutions. Currently I am also working on a very interesting project with a goal to create a so-called silver hub for older people. The project involves some elements of AI and is related to the European Union directive. At the moment we are looking for entrepreneurs interested in e-solutions for silver economy.
I am overall keen on project management with the idea to bring money to the university and create more synergy between industry, public sector and academia.
Favourite place at Taltech
I like Mektory a lot and I always try to set up my meetings there, for instance with the international delegations regularly coming to learn about our programme. I find it very cozy and comfortable. Besides, in Mektory we have our own lab, which can be booked and used by our students. As for other places… my office of course, where we are sitting all together. For me it is important that communication flows without barriers.
I am quite a workaholic, and so besides teaching I am also invested in research and a number of other projects. Because I really enjoy my work and further development my schedule is very busy and I am multitasking all the time. Nevertheless, it is not all about working. I have three lovely children — the oldest one is 23 and the youngest is 2.5 — who always come first for me. Typically, I travel a lot for business — to give speeches and attend conferences in different countries. If there is an opportunity I always try to bring my family along. I also like travelling to special places, thus I’ve been hiking the Anapurna circuit and later planning to walk Camino de Santiago. Should I be in Tallinn I will normally dedicate my free time to my children, sport and yoga. Sport activities on the whole in addition to good food are my passions.
When it comes to reading and films, it depends on my mood of course, but I have always enjoyed Sci-Fi and Steven King’s works. I’m not a big fan of ‘Star Wars’ by the way, I am rather in a ‘Stargate SG-1’ team and also, all light horror and psychological movie like ‘The Dark’ drive me. I am not so keen on Hollywood-made trivial comedies, but say French ones are more to my taste.
Inspiring people and quotes
I have always admired women who achieved a lot, like Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher and Marie Curie.
My favourite quote is: “It is simple until you make it complicated”. It is even hanging in my office. Typically, we tend to think of our problems to be bigger than they actually are.