Almaty is an ancient city dating to the Bronze Age. Since then, it has undergone many economic, cultural, and political shifts, and is now gearing up for what might be its most significant transformation—becoming a preeminent digital hub in Central Asia.
For Almaty City, becoming future-ready hinges on one thing: its people. Citizens are no longer satisfied with the basic government services of the past, according to Bayan Konirbayev, Almaty’s chief digital officer. “Our citizens have a more global view and expect the same kind of services available in New York, Chicago, or Seoul.”
But the future is not just about what Almaty City can do for its people, it is also about what its people can do for the city. To this end, Almaty’s leaders are focusing on another part of their future vision: attracting and keeping the talent the city needs. “We provide the kind of user-friendly environment not available in most countries nearby,” says Konirbayev. “That is why a lot of talented people are coming here.”
Almaty’s attractions include not only its natural beauty, set in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains, but also its 38 universities. They serve some 182,000 students, who make up more than 9% of the city’s population of 2 million. Once those students graduate, Almaty seeks to hold onto this talent.
Laying the digital groundwork
With that in mind, Almaty has devised a future-ready city plan out to 2050, with phased short-term goals by2025 and medium-term goals for 2030. It seeks to make Almaty a highly livable, smart city with a trendy cosmopolitan atmosphere, modern services, and attractive natural environment. The city is implementing the plan in phases, starting with a major digital transformation.
Konirbayev explains that the city is implementing its digital vision on a three-layer foundation: digital infrastructure, data, and services. The infrastructure layer includes mobile towers and stations, fiber optics, data processing centers, and IoT sensors installed throughout the city. For example, the city has tripled the number of cell phone stations in the last two years, in cooperation with the four telecoms operators providing services.
The data layer includes a unified data governance and data exchange platform and warehouse. Through its data exchange platform and advanced data management system, Almaty has brought together a wide variety of previously siloed data from different government departments, such as social services, education, healthcare, and housing. “It has become our single source of truth,” says Konirbayev. This part of the data warehouse includes personalized data on citizens available only to the city government.
There is also a public side to the data warehouse that includes non-personalized datasets—an innovation that can serve as a model for other municipalities. Almaty has created five central databases in cooperation with the private sector that gather demographic information stripped of personal identifiers.
These databases include a range of information, such as data on spending and borrowing patterns from banks and credit card providers; infrastructure usage data from utilities; and housing data from landlords and real estate firms. The private sector gains access to it on a barter basis—to get data, they must also provide it.
The result is a continuously growing bank of data available to public and private entities to improve city services, infrastructure, and commercial decisions.