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Quantum computing technology is advancing rapidly and is on track to solve extraordinarily complex business problems through enhanced optimization, machine learning, and simulation. Make no mistake, the technology promises to be one of the most disruptive of all time. In fact, I believe quantum computing will hand a significant competitive advantage to the companies that can successfully leverage its potential to transform their business and their industries.
While quantum technologies are still maturing, companies are already preparing, with spending on quantum computing projected to surge from $260 million in 2020 to $9.1 billion by 2030, according to research from Tractica. Companies are pursuing the promise of quantum aggressively, as evidenced by the recently announced combination of Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum Computing.
With enterprise quantum applications expected to arrive in as few as five years, it is important for businesses to begin preparing now by developing a business and IT strategy that enables quantum innovation at speed and scale.
To date, the majority of companies that have begun exploring quantum computing have conducted niche R&D in lab settings. However, companies that explore opportunities for quantum in their current business processes stand to benefit the most in terms of business readiness. Being prepared for quantum means balancing your efforts between defining your overall quantum strategy and developing practical use cases. It also means planning for both quantum-inspired systems and true quantum systems.
Four steps for better experimentation
Here are four critical steps companies should take to ensure their quantum planning and experimentation is a success:
1. Learn what quantum can do and decide where it applies to your business
Imagine how you could improve your business strategies if you were able to solve problems once thought intractable. That’s what quantum makes possible.
The starting point for any quantum journey is, therefore, to understand the implications of the technology on your industry and business. Identify and prioritize the business problems in your enterprise that are best attacked through the quantum applications of optimization, machine learning, or sampling/simulation. Then either use your current implementation as a reference or find an academic model for the problem, looking at the data requirements and documenting any shortfalls. You can then choose one or a few quantum use cases based on strategic fit and business value potential.
Use your own data and existing algorithms as the benchmark for your business experimentation and select or tailor the right quantum algorithms to test your selected use cases. Finally, survey the quantum ecosystem to shortlist strategic partners with quantum assets and methods to help your enterprise build the necessary capabilities.
2. Build a quantum innovation roadmap
Taking a longer view of the enterprise quantum computing journey will yield greater benefit and business value. That means defining the link between your organization’s quantum program and broader business strategies. Ideally, set up a feedback loop where business strategies help to prioritize quantum program outcomes and the quantum program informs new strategies.
The longer-term view also includes building a multi-year quantum innovation roadmap with ongoing initiatives. Developing a roadmap will help you formulate and execute your business-centric, IT-driven quantum strategy and ensure that you can start to realize value from the moment the technology matures.
The roadmap is also useful in helping to identify the leadership support and governance your quantum projects will need. If building an internal practice, define the target operating model required to launch and run quantum initiatives, including security and change management.
3. Evaluate quantum hardware and software and start experimenting
Navigating the rapidly evolving quantum ecosystem is difficult, with an increasing variety of vendors, academic institutions, startups, and cloud-based service providers. Selecting the right company requires identifying which ones can understand your specific business use case(s) and provide the type of quantum technology you need for your specific strategy.
One challenge can be around making long-term commitments to quantum partners. Hardware and software providers have until recently been focused on finding a few high-value strategic collaborators, as reflected in their access contracts or licensing terms, lengthy subscription models, or research programs. This model excludes most companies that prefer to engage through short- or medium-term projects to test technology hypotheses without long-term technology commitments.
Fortunately, hardware vendors have started to offer pay-per-use models through major cloud service providers. Pay-per-use has lowered the barriers for businesses to experiment with quantum today. The key now is to build a technology stack that abstracts the specific hardware selection, allowing your organization to focus on the business problem.
4. Find or develop quantum talent
Quantum skills fall on a spectrum spanning academic (quantum physics scientists and researchers who understand the hardware, algorithms, and system) to development (software coders who can connect the algorithms, libraries, and services and build the enterprise applications or products interfaces).
Start by determining the combination of skills your enterprise will need to architect quantum solutions, and be prepared for a steep investment in training over multiple years. A faster option is to source external talent from the quantum ecosystem through partnerships with academia, vendors, or a trusted quantum services provider.
Quantum computing is coming – prepare now
Quantum computing is well on its way. When it arrives, it will catalyze a sudden and rapid shift and bring new disruption to the competitive landscape. It’s therefore crucial that you prepare your business strategy now and take advantage of the growth potential quantum will provide as it matures.
Marc Carrel-Billiard is senior managing director of Technology Innovation at Accenture and co-author of Accenture’s “Prepare for the Quantum Impact” report. Follow him @mcarrelb.
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