A quantum revolution is upon us. While the technology is yet to be widely adopted across businesses today, this will begin to change in the next several years with the increasing prevalence of enterprise applications.
Quantum computing will help enable organizations to tackle problems that the finest classical computers of today are incapable of. Possible applications are diverse and will impact across industries. Notable examples include solving complex optimization problems, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum-encrypted communications, financial trading and risk profiling, smart retail and smart manufacturing and logistics. In the short-term, these applications can result in new services and partners; however, in five to ten years, quantum computing applications may completely transform business models.
It is therefore highly recommended that leaders with ambitions of flourishing in the future begin to equip their technology toolkits with quantum computing for an innovation that is set to change the world and business as we know it. Accenture’s partnerships with the world’s leading quantum cloud vendors and research institutes means we are well equipped to advise clients on this coming wave of disruption.
The first glimmers of a technology revolution
Quantum computing has the potential to change the world and truly transform the way businesses and organizations operate. Possible applications are diverse and great in number; they range from breaking encryption, to enhancing the capability of AI. Businesses seeking to operate at the cutting-edge tomorrow should consider the benefits of building related capabilities today.
A rapid increase in academic research and publications on quantum computing has recently emerged. Many big industry names such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Intel, as well as many ambitious start-up companies are in the race to develop a first large-scale universal quantum computer. In parallel to quantum hardware development, the area of quantum software and quantum algorithm development has also seen tremendous progress in the last few years.
What is quantum computing?
Unlike the traditional computer, which is established on bits and bytes, the quantum computer uses super-positioning and entanglement – theoretical concepts of quantum mechanics – to process information. This can lead to incredible processing speeds for certain applications, as a quantum computer is able to account for uncertainty in its calculations as compared to purely binary choices. For instance in 2019, a calculation that would normally take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to solve was processed within minutes by a quantum computer.
A virtuous cycle, like that of the semiconductor industry, has not yet begun for quantum computing technologies. As an enterprise technology, it is still in its infancy, with barriers to mass adoption taking the shape of rarified equipment and highly sensitive calibration requirements. Having said that, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine predicted that the early 2020s would be a critical phase for developments in quantum computing. A report from Allied Market Research predicts that the global enterprise quantum computing market will on average grow by 31.7% annually from 2018–2025 and will reach about $5.9 billion by 2025.
There will need to be considerable global contributions and experimentation of use cases before quantum computing achieves mass adoption. This will in turn drive forward the technology to be better poised to integrate with existing business applications. Simply put, the current focus of R&D in quantum computing systems is to build a ‘sandbox’ marketplace around the technology in order to create discovery opportunities for future quantum-powered products and services.
Signs of this new market are emerging, with many cloud solution providers exploring Quantum-as-a-service (QaaS). This would enable firms to access quantum computing resources remotely, just like how Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) currently exists today on the public cloud. For example, Amazon Braket is a fully managed service which enables scientists, researchers, and developers to experiment with computers from multiple quantum hardware through an Amazon Web Services (AWS) interface. Over at Microsoft, Azure Quantum is an open cloud ecosystem that provides access to quantum software, hardware, and solutions Likewise, Google’s Quantum Computing Playground enables the user to run and write quantum algorithms.
Applying quantum computing to business
Accenture has mapped over a 150 use cases with a focus on finding those that are the most promising in various industries and has partnerships with the world’s leading quantum cloud vendors to help clients embrace the upcoming quantum computing revolution.
The following are key applications:
Near term applications can result in new services and partners; however, mid-term applications may completely transform business models. Within one to five years, we can expect quantum simulators, control, and cryptography. Within five to 10 years, quantum computing will be enhancing traffic optimization, materials discovery, satellite communications and machine learning.
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How to prepare for the future, now
We are on the cusp of a quantum revolution. Apart from leveraging on cloud solutions, businesses should take the following steps now to reap the long-term benefits of quantum computing:
- Identify priority use cases
Organizations can begin by identifying where quantum innovations will critically impact their business and preparing with quantum-ready applications. To maximize the returns on investments, organizations should focus on business problems that require large computation power to solve. For example, financial services enterprises can use quantum computing to develop new credit scoring algorithms that can cope with the exponential difficulties of hard problems.
Recently, Accenture supported BBVA, a multinational financial services company, in addressing this issue by developing a reusable, transferable, code-based demonstration runtime environment that accelerated the journey from prototype to production. This effort placed the bank at the forefront of quantum exploration and strengthened the organization’s credential as a 21st century digital bank.
- Encourage experimentation
Once priority use cases have been identified, organizations should then conduct pilots in a "test, learn and iterate" approach. Accenture is well positioned to help clients gain unique insights through conducting quantum business experiments, with over 150 use cases mapped across multiple industries plus two U.S. patents for "quantum computing machine learning module" and "multi-state quantum optimization engine" products. These experiments are designed to discover whether algorithms are effective replacements for existing classical computing implementations. Once this is established, a quantum application us developed to demonstrate the functionality. Enterprises that proceed with experimentation and innovation at this stage will be well braced to capitalize on the opportunities that the quantum revolution will bring.
- Explore the talent ecosystem beyond the organization
In comparison with other skillsets, the war for talent in quantum computing is fierce, with only a few thousand quantum physicists and engineers worldwide. To address this challenge, businesses should leverage partnerships and work with external quantum experts. For example, Biogen - a multinational biotech collaborated with Accenture Labs and 1Qbit - a quantum software company - to accelerate drug discovery through quantum-computing molecule comparison. In less than three months, an enterprise-ready, quantum-enabled application with transparent processes was developed, thereby providing Biogen a unique competitive advantage through speed to market and cost savings.
Building a first mover advantage
The case is clear, organizations looking to build a first mover advantage and lead the field in years to come should invest in building quantum capabilities today. Operational quantum computing use cases that generate business value are on the five to 10 year horizon, with increasing flows of investment and R&D focused on this next major step in computational evolution. Like all emerging technologies, challenges still remain around industrialization and talent sourcing, but these are solvable through the right partnerships.
Accenture is well placed to prepare businesses to be quantum ready, with over 15 teams and 100 quantum experts globally. For more, reach us here.