The digital revolution has transformed our world in just a couple of decades. It has increased economic productivity, enabled new industries to flourish, expanded consumer choice and put more power in the hands of citizens. But profound as the change has been, we are still in the early stages of a transformation so deep it is hard for anybody to fathom its final outcome. The challenge for countries and businesses is to ensure they are not left behind.
Kazakhstan has been the regional leader in this important race. More than 75 percent of the population, for example, have access to the internet, a figure well ahead of any other country in Central Asia. By the end of this year, it is hoped that 80 percent of government services can be delivered digitally. State support and the talent and drive of young Kazakhs have combined to produce an explosion of tech start-ups in recent years.
But in a globalised economy, Kazakhstan is not just competing with its neighbours but countries in every region. If the increased economic competitiveness, rising prosperity and improvements in quality of life of the last two decades are to be continued, it is vital that Kazakhstan accelerates digital progress across the board.
This challenge was embraced by First President Nursultan Nazarbayev when he launched the ambitious Digital Kazakhstan programme in 2017. It had a comprehensive agenda which covered the economy, government and skills with the prediction that it could help increase the economy by up to 30 percent by 2022.
Kazakhstan is already seeing the rewards of this programme, which has the full backing of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev who earlier this month urged the country go further and faster. The Government has, for example, revealed that digitisation added $578 million to the economy last year while tech hubs are providing a powerful motor for job creation. For example, the Astana Hub, Nur-Sultan’s international technopark of IT start-ups, facilitates more than 260 projects involving nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs.
Its impact can also be seen in the continuing improvement of public services as digitisation helps improve access across the country and reduce the divide between urban and rural areas. Remote diagnosis and treatment is enabling all to share in better healthcare and the skills of the country’s medical experts wherever they live. Students are benefiting as lessons and materials can be shared to help drive up standards.
Parents can now monitor their child’s progress in school online while the e-diary helps reduce the risks of false grades. This is just one of the ways that digitisation is helping make public services more responsive, transparent and accountable – a major priority of President Tokayev.
But Kazakhstan is not resting on these achievements. The digital revolution, for example, is being extended beyond those industries traditionally thought of as hi-tech. In July, for instance, the Government announced nearly 200 projects to digitise mining and metallurgy enterprises, which would generate, it was predicted, $5.7 billion in profits by 2025. Over half of these projects will be completed by the end of this year.
Farming, too, is seeing a fresh approach. In April, it was revealed that more than 4,000 farms will benefit from increased investment as part of a larger initiative to digitise the nation’s agriculture sector. By helping increase yields and improve the use of resources, the initiative will help achieve the goal of doubling processed agricultural product exports by the end of 2021.
At the same time, there has been a renewed emphasis on developing digital skills and infrastructure. Both are absolutely essential if Kazakhstan is to continue successfully modernising and diversifying its economy and raising living standards. Schools and colleges are helping prepare young people for the opportunities a digital economy is creating. Young entrepreneurs and start-ups are being supported while all parts of the country are being connected to the digital grid.
Despite Kazakhstan’s size, the country has the best performing business-to-consumer e-commerce market in the Central Asian region. This is the result of both public and private investments helping to continue the growth of this sector, with the share of business-to-consumer e-commerce in total sales predicted to break 3percent by 2021.
Kazakhstan is also working to keep up with global trend towards the introduction of 5G. As a first step towards a national roll-out, the infrastructure needed to support networks is already being developed in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent. The increase in capacity and speed is expected to spur new projects across the economy and public services while making it easier to deliver the ambitious smart cities initiatives.
Kazakhstan has heavily invested in its own satellite communications system, KAzSat-2, enabling a dramatic expansion of communications services to Central Asia countries. Thanks to the work of the KazSat space system satellites, services are provided to 14 telecom operators, digital television, broadband internet access and data transmission throughout Kazakhstan.
All this work shows Kazakhstan’s determination to continue improving economic competitiveness, the effectiveness and responsiveness of government and the quality of life for its citizens. It is a sign of just how seriously the country is taking the challenges and opportunities of the coming decades.