sakkmesterke -

Quantum computing in business applications

Quantum computing shows great potential for faster problem-solving, among other benefits. Discover key areas where the enterprise could implement the rapidly advancing tech.

By adopting quantum computing, organizations could unlock the potential for groundbreaking advancements to change entire industries.

CIOs and IT leaders have a unique opportunity to support their company's quantum journey right now. Quantum computing promises a massive change in how organizations build and run business applications and analytics.

The essential difference between classical computing, or the traditional computing people use in their daily lives, compared to quantum computing is that quantum calculates using qubits rather than bits. Qubits can represent variables that best align with real-world processes. This functionality allows qubits to analyze a wide range of possibilities at once.

In contrast, classical computers use bits that must analyze data as distinct, individual units, limiting them to one combination of variables at a time. As a result, classical computers must incrementally step through each scenario, material composition or business case, limiting the tech's capability while requiring more time and energy for deeper analysis.

It's important to note that quantum computing is still a work in progress. Researchers are demonstrating progress toward quantum supremacy, the theory that quantum computing could solve problems faster than classical computers. These advancements are focused on problems not directly applicable to organizations today. However, CIOs are starting to develop quantum computing strategies that will allow them to take the lead once the underlying computing technology and associated infrastructure matures.

Here's what CIOs and IT leaders should understand about how the enterprise could use quantum computing for business applications.

The potential for enterprise quantum computing

CIOs planning for quantum computing should start the process by considering some of the tech's more useful characteristics. These features could help explore and prioritize business-specific focus areas, identify ways to innovate and develop the company's learning and talent pipeline.

CIOs should consider three essential characteristics of quantum computing, said Suseel Menon, practice director at Everest Group, a global research firm, headquartered in Dallas. The characteristics are the following:

  • Superposition. This functionality occurs when a qubit represents and processes multiple possibilities or combinations at the same time. Theoretically, quantum superposition can aid in processing massive quantities of data, given that qubits can represent multiple states at once.
  • Factorization. Quantum computers excel at factorization problems, which have many applications across cryptography, data compression and control systems.
  • Optimization. Quantum computers do well at solving optimization problems by determining the most effective option or action, or quantum annealing. Quantum annealing is already showing promise for a limited range of business applications that rely on quantum computing.

Where can organizations apply quantum computing?

With quantum computing, companies could achieve faster and more accurate results, leading to increased efficiency, reduced costs and improved decision-making. The following list outlines some promising uses of the tech to improve an organization's daily operations.

Route and fleet optimization

Companies could use quantum computing to assist with existing fleet and route optimization problems. The tech can help determine the most efficient allocation of resources to resolve common supply chain issues such as cost reduction, punctuality and utilization.

These kinds of problems might require less fault tolerance than needed for other types of applications and might allow companies to achieve more successful results in the near term, Menon said.

Portfolio optimization

Banks and other financial services firms aim to identify the most attractive portfolio of investments across thousands of assets with interconnecting dependencies. Portfolio optimization techniques using quantum computing could analyze multiple combinations in parallel to determine the optimum combination of investments.

Given the monetary risk, the time horizon for portfolio optimization will be longer than route optimization, Menon said. Financial institutions should wait for better fault-tolerant quantum computers.

Chemistry and molecular simulation

Research scientists rely on molecular simulation to understand the behavior of molecules at the quantum level. This aspect is essential for drug discovery, materials science and other fields. Quantum computers could simultaneously analyze numerous data streams, leading to the discovery of promising chemical variations.

Combined with AI systems like DeepMind's AlphaFold2, quantum computing could help speed up drug and chemical development, Menon said. These applications will require high levels of fault tolerance and demand improvement in superposition techniques.

Financial fraud detection

Effective fraud detection requires processing large quantities of data. Fraud prediction demands real-time, heavy computational ability. Quantum computers could help identify fraud indicators more quickly and accurately to improve proactive fraud management.

Companies should remember that regulations and compliance burdens might slow enterprise adoption, Menon said.

Workforce allocation optimization

Many organizations depend on processes that require a delicate balance of different kinds of workers with different skill sets, tool requirements and physical infrastructure. Quantum computing could potentially find fresh ways to balance these diverse elements to ensure that the organization runs efficiently and effectively.

Many of these problems are easier to describe from a quantum computing perspective than other problems, said Chirag Dekate, vice president analyst at Gartner. Quantum computers might be used to directly calculate better results or develop more efficient classical computing algorithms to solve specific optimization problems.

For example, many companies are also investing in quantum development to help data scientists think outside the box to develop new algorithmic solutions they might not have explored from a classical computing perspective, he said.

Simulating product designs

Enterprises are increasingly turning to digital twins to help represent the different mechanical, electrical and manufacturing characteristics using a shared, interoperable data model. Companies can change a product's weight, physical size or material composition to determine areas for improvement or to test for weaknesses in a digital environment instead of the real world.

For example, manufacturing companies could use quantum-powered digital twins to optimize designs across multiple characteristics to improve cost, reliability and performance.

Drug development

Modern drug development involves an incredibly iterative process. Companies are starting to develop robotic labs to help mix and test out the chemical and biological properties across thousands of experimental cells.

"Imagine doing all that in the memory of a quantum computer," Dekate said.

Quantum computers could help prioritize and shortlist candidates so that the physical labs could focus on the most promising possibilities.

This use case will likely gain traction in the next 10 to 15 years, he said.

Transitioning to a net-zero economy

Future products could all benefit from higher strength, lighter weight and more performant materials. One challenge to transitioning to a net-zero economy is the low energy density of modern batteries compared to fossil fuels like oil and coal. As a result, electric cars and planes have shorter ranges, higher weights and increased recharging times compared to gas vehicles.

Quantum computers could help accelerate the iterative process scientists use to discover new battery technologies they might not have considered before, Dekate said.

How companies can prepare for quantum systems

Industrial-scale and fault-tolerant quantum computing is a few years away from widespread adoption. But there are steps that companies can take to gain a foothold in this new era of computing.

Large organizations should think about applying an iterative process as the technology matures, Menon said. This can be followed by a cycle of deployment of proofs of concept to the production environment.

According to Menon, IT leaders should consider the following steps to create a quantum experimentation program:

  1. Form a task force.
  2. Develop strong market intelligence and identify use cases.
  3. Build a talent model.
  4. Find the right partners and vendors.
  5. Develop algorithms.
  6. Launch proofs of concept.

Laying the foundations for quantum talent

The quantum computing industry remains a work in progress.

Many enterprises ask if they need to wait five years to begin this journey or if there are any steps they should take today, Dekate said. Enterprises should continuously assess the ecosystem's evolution across quantum hardware, middleware and application stacks.

The quantum hardware is the actual computer. The middleware refers to the various techniques for translating programs written and stored on classical computers into a quantum-friendly format and techniques for reducing noise and errors. The application stack includes the various libraries and tools for writing and running company-specific applications or optimizing new algorithms using quantum-inspired techniques. Organizations don't necessarily need to invest today, but they should at least track them.

In addition, enterprises should also think about laying the foundation to cultivate local talent. This process could be as simple as investing in quantum computing programs at local universities or sponsoring students earning master's degrees or doctorates.

These kinds of proactive measures will help create a university-to-industry talent pipeline familiar with the kinds of use cases that enterprises will need once the technology matures, Dekate said.

It's also important to start small or risk pushback from investors and the company board.

"Even if you are investing in quantum now, be super frugal because it is going to be really hard to show value," Dekate said.

Organizations that invest too much will be hard-pressed to demonstrate meaningful business value in the short term.

"We recommend that enterprises be humble and grounded in reality," Dekate said. "But start, at the very least, by creating technical playbooks and sponsoring graduate students in your local region."

George Lawton is a journalist based in London. Over the last 30 years he has written more than 3,000 stories about computers, communications, knowledge management, business, health and other areas that interest him.

Next Steps

Quantum computing ecosystem grows with Accenture, QCI moves

Types of quantum network topologies

Dig Deeper on CIO strategy

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing
Data Center
and ESG