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3 Steps Businesses Should Take to Prepare for Quantum Computing Disruption

Quantum computing is closer to becoming an everyday reality than many today realize. Hardware vendors like IBM are meeting the targets set out in their roadmaps and producing technology that supports more and more qubits with lower error rates, while software is being designed that will make it far easier and more accessible to code for quantum. Governments around the world are investing eye-watering sums into quantum computing: Germany has announced plans to spend 2bn euros in the sector, while France’s Quantum Programme has a budget of 150m euros to support this nascent industry. Tech executives I have spoken to who previously predicted quantum computing was up to five years away now predict it is closer to just two years.

The time scale for when quantum computing will start solving real-world problems and producing tangible business value is shrinking, and yet many organizations have still not begun strategic planning for this technological revolution. And as it can take up to two years to build a capable team with quantum computing expertise, companies that do not start soon run the risk of being overtaken by their quantum-ready competition.

Not being quantum-ready carries significant risk. Competitors who can use quantum computing will likely be able to improve their services and lower their costs. For instance, payment services provider Mastercard has talked publicly about its own exploration into quantum computing and how the technology could improve its consumer loyalty programs, enhance fraud detection, and optimize its business. These are all potentially significant competitive advantages.

Plus, companies that are slow to act now will struggle to acquire quantum expertise in the future, preventing them from catching up with quantum-ready competitors. We have seen this happen before with machine learning: companies that were late to adopting this technology could not develop internal expertise, nor could they bring in talent, as the top candidates in this field were already employed elsewhere.

What defines being quantum-ready? It means that a business has the skills and capabilities in place to leverage quantum computing once it is available and has identified the areas of its operations that could be impacted by the technology, whether that’s optimizing supply chains or enhancing its arbitrage decisions. It then needs to decide whether it is feasible to apply quantum technology to the use case, whether it will offer a competitive advantage, and how important the use case is to the business. A company may identify dozens of potential use cases but only decide to prepare for a few. The important thing is that it has done the work and is ready for the first-mover advantage.

Becoming quantum-ready does not have to be expensive. Businesses will not have to acquire their own quantum computer, as access is available on the cloud. Investing in being quantum-ready is akin to buying an insurance policy: a company can hedge against potentially catastrophic disruption at a small cost.

For companies prepared to insure themselves, here are the three steps to becoming quantum-ready.

1. Educate your organization and get executive buy-in

Some companies become quantum-ready from the ground up, where curious engineers learn about the technology in their own time and bring their findings to the leadership. This can be amazing, but it may be too late for firms to wait to start from the bottom up.

Instead, business leaders need to educate their executive team on the benefits of becoming quantum-ready – and the risks of not doing so. For any successful project, executive sponsorship is essential, so leaders may want to ask one of their executives to volunteer to explore a proof of concept for their business unit.

Alongside the executive team, it is important to educate your workforce on the possibilities of quantum. This will prove key, because while you could bring in quantum experts, they may not understand your business requirements. You will need domain knowledge experts, whether on supply chains, finance, or another aspect of your operations, to explain what the business needs from quantum computing.

Some of this educational work may have already been done for you. For instance, the insurer AXA has put in a lot of work educating the broader insurance community on how quantum computing will impact the sector. There may be a similar company in your field with whom you can share lessons and information.

2. Acquire quantum coding capabilities

A quantum-ready company will have staff able to write quantum code, which is very different from classical coding. As each qubit could be zero or one simultaneously, coders need a new way of thinking and keep in mind concepts such as entanglement and superpositions. Today’s programmers and coders will need to learn and develop skills in quantum coding.

The instinct of some businesses will be to just hire graduates with a degree in quantum to fill this skills gap, but again, this solution is limited. There are not enough graduates to meet demand, and they may not understand the needs of your business. You must build a diverse team containing quantum experts, and internal staff upskilled in quantum.

Upskilling your existing workforce does not require a huge investment. Companies will do well to find open-minded people within their organization who are intelligent, interested, and motivated, and then give them the freedom to immerse themselves in quantum and produce a short proof of concept or identify a quantum use case. This is a low-cost way to acquire quantum expertise. Meanwhile, software providers such as Classiq are producing solutions that allow coders to write sophisticated quantum programs without needing deep quantum experience.

For workers, now is an excellent opportunity to get into quantum. You only need a few years of experience in quantum computing to become a veteran in the industry with highly sought-after skills. Compare that to a field such as cybersecurity, where you may need a decade of experience to stand out in the labor market.

3. Be ready to execute your code

Finally, companies need to understand how they will execute the software they write. Quantum computers are not all the same: some have more qubits than others, some can run longer circuits, and some use a different set of gates in their programming. As such, your code will run better on some machines compared to others.

Your quantum team will need to know how to run their code on simulators and research which quantum computer will produce the best results from their code so that they can move quickly when these machines become accessible.

With this quantum-ready team in place, businesses can develop proof of concepts that address real problems and are scalable as larger, more powerful quantum computers are developed. For instance, a finance company could test optimization for small portfolios of maybe 50 assets using a quantum computer. Could this optimization program be scaled to 500 or 5,000 assets once more powerful machines come online, or will the code need to be rewritten from scratch?

Working on a proof of concept will not only demonstrate that the application is feasible, has business value and that quantum computer can have an impact on your company, but will also increase the skill level of your team, helping to develop the internal expertise that will insure your company against any disruption from the quantum revolution.

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