Covid-19 is usually seen as an obstacle, but at the University of Central Asia (UCA), it has accelerated the digital transformation of UCA and the region.
UCA was always in the forefront of this digital transformation, but following the Digital Transformation in Central Asia (DTCA) conference in October 2019 and subsequent months when Covid-19 began to spread, UCA did accelerate its digital transformation.
UCA introduced a variety of new systems, developed partnerships, and increased its digital footprint. The DTCA conference, which was organised by UCA, in partnership with the State Committee for Information Technology and Communications (ICT), and the High Technology Park of the Kyrgyz Republic, explored the technological trends facing Central Asia. The key outcomes included recommendations to bring best practices from around the world to Central Asia; strengthen human capital and digital literacy; improve cybersecurity; develop a strong communication infrastructure; embed smart cities thinking into urban and rural development planning projects, as well as pursue public-private partnerships.
Since January 2020, when COVID-19 was just emerging, UCA has successfully implemented a SAP based cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across all University locations. It is aimed at boosting the efficiency of staff and faculty, integrating all data and processes, from managing documents in paperless form, to online reporting, administrating academic activities and human resources. The University’s partnership with SAP is also enabling UCA undergraduate students to gain digital skills, through access to over 2,400 online courses from the SAP portal.
UCA also joined the UiPath Academic Alliance programme, which offers UCA students and staff training in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) over three years. Under an agreement with Celonis, a software company harnessing process and data mining, UCA has access to the Celonis Academic Intelligent Business Cloud and other e-learning modules on data analytics, information systems, and process mining.
The University of Central Asia is also transforming its website in line with industry standards, to provide relevant information and research to attract top quality researchers, faculty and students. Research by UCA’s Graduate School of Development is available for free download from UCA’s website, including publications on public policy, development in mountain societies, climate change, natural resource management, cultural heritage, and civil society, among others. UCA’s publications can be accessed at: https://ucentralasia.org/Publications/Index/EN.
With an aim of sharing knowledge from around the world, UCA’s Online Public Lecture Series is providing a platform to discuss topics such as cybersecurity trends, artificial intelligence, the collaboration between humans and robots, how to design technology for sustainable development, and how Covid-19 is speeding the digital transformation process. Lecture recordings can be watched on UCA’s YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/ucentralasia.
An increased focus on cybersecurity has led UCA to vulnerability assessments to manage potential risks. It is regularly holding IT security awareness trainings for staff. The University also rolled out the use of Microsoft Teams across all university locations, which has enabled a smoother transition as the institution has moved to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also been used for distance learning at UCA’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, as well as its undergraduate programme in Naryn (Kyrgyz Republic), and Khorog (Tajikistan), where the faculty is delivering lectures remotely.
Another key outcome of the conference was the first steering committee meeting in March to launch discussions for a Smart City concept for the city of Naryn at the request of the Governor and Mayor of Naryn. This new Smart City project compliments UCA’s existing partnership with the Naryn Town Municipality to work on the master plan for the Naryn area.