For some years, powerful emerging technologies have tested even Moore’s Law to its limits. The accent is on speed—being agile in the face of changing market demands, keeping pace with customer expectations, and quickly bringing cost down while raising productivity.

Underlying the impact of the many and varied technology disruptions that have sprung up has been computing power. And just as the shift from analog to digital drove communications supersonic, quantum computing compared with classical computing is poised to reinvent processing and performance as we know it.

Quantum computing is the physicist's dream and the engineer’s nightmare. Although there are some engineering challenges to the design, development, and production of some quantum-computer architectures, a revolutionary breakthrough is close at hand. So close that we’re talking about a commercially viable model emerging in three to five years.

For the oil and gas industry, it’s an exciting opportunity. Quantum computing could enable a driverless supply chain, bringing better integration that, in turn, makes their organizations more efficient and interconnected. At best, planning, sourcing, production, logistics, services, and the rapid replanning response to risks could be optimized rapidly for a single global objective across an organization. It’s a far cry from current supply chain siloes where each activity is being optimized independently—a laborious process that is at risk from well-established approaches that leave a residue of trapped value.

So how can quantum computing help? Predictive analytics, such as machine learning techniques and prescriptive analytics, such as optimization and simulation, are at the center of transformation that leads to the driverless supply chain. At their core, predictive and prescriptive analytics are based on optimization algorithms. Here is where quantum computers come into their own. They are designed to solve problems through an entirely different process. Freed from the constraints of classical computers’ 0s or 1s, quantum computing’s qubits can hold more complex information using a physical process that can deliver optimal results faster.

Make a quantum leap

Do we really need to go into warp drive with our computing capabilities? Probably, yes. Classical computing is reaching its limits and needs unprecedented amounts of hardware, space and time for computation due to the increasing volume and intricacy of data generated across an increasingly complex supply chain network. For example, oil rigs are equipped with about 30,000 sensors, generating 1.5 terabytes of data each day—the equivalent of downloading 428,571 mp3 songs. Only 1 percent of that data is analyzed, leaving massive potential largely untapped.

In a case of “needs must,” quantum supremacy will happen when a particular calculation that is today out of reach for classical supercomputers can be performed—and in a fraction of the time. This added power will serve to advance business mega-trends such as highly automated execution enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning; end-to-end integration across all supply-chain activities; shifting skills and introducing a different mind-set to solve new problems, and greater operating-model flexibility to adapt to changing market demands.

Six key questions can guide you to apply quantum computing strategically to enable the holy grail for oil and gas organizations—the driverless supply chain:

  1. What processes (such as extraction or transportation) should be optimized from reservoir-to-end-customer?
  2. What are the current optimization limits for each supply chain silo’ed process?
  3. What is the likely untapped value for each separate, locally optimized process?
  4. What enterprise objectives are you trying to achieve? (identify best and worst case scenarios to align with corporate strategy).
  5. What would your ideal end-to-end supply chain system look like, including enterprise constraints and decision variables?
  6. What should your roadmap look like and where should you start to experiment?

Quantum computing may be in the future but it’s the near future. Enterprises that experiment and innovate are likely to be better prepared to capitalize on opportunities fueled by the quantum revolution. Let’s talk to find out how you can start now.

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Ely Colón

Senior Principal – Supply Chain and Operati​ons, Data Science

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