3 questions to guide your quantum applications strategy
When the first digital watches came to market, I was fascinated with the new technology. In time, I realized that the technology wasn't what made such a difference; it was what the technology allowed us to do. We might still be late for class, but now we could do timed laps on our bicycles and compare intermediate and lap times down to one-tenth of a second. This was awesome!
That technology has advanced into smartwatches and being connected at all times. I am sure my son has no clue how his smartwatch operates on the inside, but he sure knows how to use it to play games and stay in touch with friends.
In a similar way, I expect quantum computers to fascinate people once they come to market—but their real impact will be in the applications that run on them. Again, it's how we use them that makes the difference, not the technology itself.
[ Related reading: An introduction to quantum computing architecture. ]
To prepare for quantum computers, organizations need to create a strategy—not for the computers themselves, but for quantum applications and how to use them to their advantage.
Early on, organizations will probably use quantum computers as services provided by other companies. Organizations will have short to midterm strategies (for the first three to five years) that address this, but there are more immediate questions they need to answer to get the first steps right. The following are three questions that organizations developing a strategy for quantum applications need to consider.
1. What business and operational challenges can't current computers resolve?
Start by focusing on your current business challenges to avoid getting caught up in fictional discussions about the possible future. If you can see the advantages of quantum with today's challenges, once you've resolved those issues, you will be able to see and address new challenges that you probably can't yet envision.
These problems and challenges should come from different roles, such as the corporate lead, finance, logistics, production, and marketing. IT is a service function that can sometimes inspire an organization to use new technology to gain an advantage. But in most cases, IT responds to the business' requirements and delivers timely solutions to meet those needs.
With quantum computers, IT first needs to learn the technology and then plan how to resolve various risks, including security, data quality, and how to integrate the new technology in the existing IT environment.
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2. Should we build applications that run on quantum computers? Or wait for quantum applications to become available on the market?
This is an important decision. If you start to build an application early in quantum computing's evolution, you won't know which quantum operating systems or quantum application platforms will be dominant, what schools of developers will be in the lead, what software development tools will prevail, or other factors. However, starting to build quantum applications early is a bold step that might provide you an early edge against your competitors, provided you get things right.
There are multiple angles and roles in the organization—including corporate functions, marketing, human resources, IT, legal, security, quality, production, and logistics—that need to discuss this question in depth. There are two reasons to involve these different perspectives before deciding which way to go: First, there's the magnitude of the overall impact, but you will also need engagement from all parts of the organization, whichever way you decide.
3. What resources can you allocate? Which do you need to acquire?
Once you've made those decisions and identified your primary challenges, you need to start allocating resources. Use different work streams in various parts of the organization to answer questions about your team members' engagement with quantum applications.
The business will need to consider the risks and the benefits that can be achieved using quantum applications. They must also discuss what happens if your competitors start using quantum computers and you don't. Finance will have a major interest in quantum applications including managing their portfolio of assets and the flow of money. Operations and production will need to review what can be gained by using quantum applications, especially when it comes to optimizing logistics.
Human resources will need to find and hire people that understand and can program quantum applications. HR should think about how to integrate these new skill sets with those that already exist in the company. They might need to take steps to avoid "us and them" scenarios between new and legacy technology teams.
IT will be impacted significantly. They will need to review all the areas where training and staffing will be critical. It will be a real challenge to master this technological super-jump.
[ Learn how IT architect roles will change due to quantum computing. ]
Once these answers start coming in from different parts of the organization, they must be collated and harmonized to form the foundation for your quantum applications strategy. This approach allows the organization to move together into this new era of computing.
Quantum applications will impact nearly every part of an organization. It is important to have broad traction to address the challenges in advance. Use a structured approach to collate all the questions and answers into a working strategy. It is equally important to understand how quantum applications will impact the organization, the market, and your competitors. You need to investigate the legal and political aspects and other topics.
There is a risk in underestimating the impact quantum applications will have on the organization and the overall market. Quantum computers are gaining traction at great speed because of the generous research funding behind making them ready for the broader market.
There is risk in being an early quantum adopter, but the rewards can also be huge. So, I think it's better not to be blind but rather to create a well-thought plan that includes the risks and opportunities. Aim to translate efforts and outcomes into financial terms and remove as many blindfolds as possible. Ultimately, people will make a difference by understanding the challenges and resolving them to enable positive change.
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