Minister: Developing digital economy is matter of national security for Kazakhstan

Dauren Abayev [Astana Times]

Kazakhstan is developing its digital technologies in many fields, such as the economy, agriculture or administration, and the Central Asian country also wants to become a pioneer in digital innovation, with the creation of technology hubs and parks.

In an interview with foreign media, Kazakh Minister of Information and Communication, Dauren Abayev, has announced that “Kazakhstan will rank 30th in the World Digital Competitiveness Rankings by 2025”, according to estimates. Thanks to the Digital Kazakhstan programme, the country intends to join the future digital giants.

“We cannot say that we started from the bottom. We have a firm basis with successfully implemented industrial programmes, the Bolashak international educational programme, several innovative technology parks and a successfully operating e-Gov portal,” Abayev said.

This portal provides proactive services to citizens and simplifies administrative procedures for citizens.

For instance, when a baby is born, “the hospital enters data on the newborn into its database, then this information is sent to the e-Gov portal. Parents do not need to register the child themselves, and obtaining a certificate, applying for benefits or a kindergarten is automatic.” Parents only have to approve those actions through text messages.

Abayev argues that the Digital Kazakhstan programme can compete with those of other countries, such as Britain, Canada, Germany, China, South Korea and Singapore.

Digitalised economy is expected to revolutionise life in Kazakhstan and increase its economic competitiveness at the international level. For Abayev, it is a necessity rather than an innovation trend, as export prices for basic goods are falling.

“Look at the statistics of GDP growth over the past two years and you will see how strongly we are dependent on the volatility of prices in the commodity market. Therefore, the formation and development of the digital economy is a matter of national security for us.”

This very commodity market has already embraced the principles of Industry 4.0 – or “smart factory” – which is the automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. This system allows productivity gain and time-saving.

Reducing costs for export goods “is probably the only way to survive”, Abayev said.

The efficiency of this cyber-physical system has been proven in the Digital Mine project, implemented by the Kazakh nuclear power company Kazatomprom.

“Special connected sensors transmit real-time information so thanks to them it is possible to identify problems more quickly. With the old system, it took up to two weeks to manually collect and analyse the data. Now, it’s only a few hours from the moment the problem occurs and the moment we fix it.”

As for more traditional fields, like agriculture, digitalisation is also a solution to increase crops, reduce the amount of strenuous work for farmers, or simply limit costs. Satellite and laboratory data helps farmers to work in a more rational way.

The minister talked about a “groundbreaking” technology for farmers, which goes even further for animal farms, and gave the example of a digitally-operated farm in northern Kazakhstan.

“A computer automatically calculates the feeding time and feeding volume for livestock. The farmer only manages the process while sitting in his office.”

But such a transition towards a new digital economy has to be ensured by the proper actors, and Kazakhstan has only two alternatives for now: creating or buying.

“We are forced to import, but in parallel, as a state, we undertake the creation of innovative infrastructures.”

‘Kazakh Silicon Valley’

Indeed, Abayev said Kazakhstan launched at the start of the year a “programme to support startups on the premises of Astana Hub”. He compared it to a “Kazakh Silicon Valley”, where young entrepreneurs will work thanks to the help of mentors and business professionals, who will give them concrete advice. They will also enjoy free open space.

“At the same time, we create a community of young people who, sharing the same territory and exchanging their views, will be able to create together the products of the future. The Silicon Valley developed in the same way, and Apple, Google and eBay were born. Who knows if all these companies would have appeared if they had not started to develop within the same community.”

Concerning the issue of brain drain, a major issue in the field of technology, Abayev remains positive.

“All countries face it at some stage. But like in China – where working in Alibaba is no less prestigious than in Amazon – Kazakh specialists will begin to massively return when they see that companies here are creating worthy conditions.”

He also stresses the high “level of development of biotechnology and research in the field of medicine” at Nazarbayev University, saying that scientists in Kazakhstan do not have anything to envy to other countries.

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