By Brian Lenahan, Founder & Chair – Quantum Strategy Institute
Portland, Oregon is known for its wonderful trails, gorges, waterfalls, and nature parks. It’s also the home of the Portland Quantum Meetup Community. When I was asked recently to speak to this group of quantum enthusiasts, they offered the freedom of selecting my topic. Rather than devoting my presentation to headline grabbing breakthroughs, investments or government programs, I elected to focus on what’s been largely ignored. How companies can adopt these technologies and accelerate commercialization.
Without successful commercialization, quantum technologies face the difficult possibility of a quantum winter like those experienced in the artificial intelligence ecosystem in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Research, translating into production, demands a buyer to repay those investments, otherwise those investments dry up.
As a quantum strategist (yes, such a role exists), the author of the book “Quantum Boost: Using Quantum Computing to Supercharge Your Business” and founder & chair of the Quantum Strategy Institute, I spend most of my days helping the players in all parts of this industry. Producers want to understand how to reach the business community, particularly when quantum is such a complex technology. Consumers demand to understand why quantum, and why now?
So how do these two players meet? In this article, I will share lessons from my practice, research and global interaction through the Institute.
Lesson #1: Understand the Challenges of Reaching the Business Community
Quantum.Tech is an industry conference held in various cities around the world most recently in September 2021. In one session, representatives of Cold Quanta, D-Wave, Honeywell, IQM, IBM, Classiq, and Rigetti were asked about the top things to convince the C-Suite to make a quantum investment. The responses were varied and are compiled in the table below.
|Cold Quanta||Paul Lipman||It’s comparable to the advent of the internet, companies are being powered by AI and quantum and will need to, to stay relevant|
|D-Wave||Murray Thom||Same rational for all other decisions in business, you can identify value even today, ie in second generation, D-Wave achieved 3 million times faster processing Simplifying experience for developers, less steps by users – shift burden to vendor, providing demonstrations, focus on practical industrial scale problems.|
|Honeywell||Jenni Strabley||In certain verticals there is a big pay-off for first wave adopters, and there will be a big loss for those left behind|
|IQM||Raghunath Koduvayur||Start at the customer and their demands increasing, their data growing and speed of innovation getting faster; quantum applies to all. It is not if but when so start now.|
|IBM||Jerry Chow||This is a moment in computing history where quantum computing will make a real change in architectures being done in an open way with open source and cloud. There’s tremendous value in driving towards advantage.|
|Classiq||Yuval Boger||Quantum is a low cost, high payoff play. Getting started with quantum is easy by working with partners, vendors, and cloud access.|
|Rigetti||Mandy Birch||Many organizations are already building workflows; we’re single digit years away from broad applications; start prototyping.|
What are we learning from these top producers of quantum hardware? That they need to approach consumer organizations with a great deal of understanding that they know little about this new technology. That consumers need help in introducing quantum technologies into their business. That as customers’ dynamics evolve and grow more complex, vendors must understand these dynamics if quantum is to form a part of the solution. That falling behind is a very real possibility, and that such timing is not decades away.
What about the consumer side of the equation? At the same Quantum.Tech conference, several companies shared what they have experienced in the challenges they face.
|Company||Speaker||Done Right||Not So Well|
|British Petroleum||Robin Yellow||Focused on quantum sensors which is starting to pay off now||Hedged their bets too long; did not pick a direction and go with it|
|KPN Telecom||Victoria Lipinska||Create a quantum strategy with a clear vision both internally and externally aligned (ie Dutch national Agenda in Quantum Delta); Executing projects like QKD||Be more patient very early in the quantum technology adoption phase|
|Mastercard||James Conway||Focus on software not hardware; more vendor agnostic; focus on ability to efficiently write quantum programs||Wish they started sooner but are catching up quickly|
|Volkswagen||Florian Neukart||Started early into quantum computing (2015); set expectations that no matter what you do expect criticism but keep going||Many things went wrong but they kept on learning|
Even in large organizations like BP, KPN Telecom, Mastercard and VW, learning from missteps in strategies and tactics occur, yet from their collective perspective agree the journey is worth it. Starting early, staying focused on a limited number of quantum initiatives, incorporating a clear internal and external strategy, and leveraging strengths (ie software over hardware) can make all the difference in successfully adopting quantum.
Lesson #2: Take a structured approach to the enter into quantum
When I work with companies interested in venturing into the quantum domain, we leverage a five-step process to keep the leadership team highly focused, while continuing to drive their core revenues and operations.
- Conducting Assessments – we walk through a detailed quantum opportunity assessment analyzing the areas of strength and weakness in leadership, people and computing resources, level of machine learning competence, and more.
- Identifying Candidates – we take the time to really drill down on which business problems would qualify for quantum technologies in concert with classical computing
- Validating Priorities – sometimes hours are spent on defining which candidates rise to the top in prioritizing quantum investment, and once done, the leadership team feels more confident in their collective decision
- Completing Roadmaps – quantum is a journey, and leaders should understand (much like quantum hardware vendors do today) where the company resides on their unique roadmap.
- Introductions to Vendors – instead of starting with building a team internally, many consumer side companies look to software and hardware vendors and contractors to supply the early days intelligence and execution to move offerings in-market sooner. Credible vendors, with track records of excellence are critical to this approach.
Lesson #3: Share a combination of in-market use cases & near-term applications vs hype and long term promises
Many companies and their leaders new to quantum have heard that the technology is highly immature and possibly even decades away from producing results. Nothing could be farther from the truth and I often share in-market examples like Samsung’s QRNG chip, D-Wave & Multiverse’s efforts in the financial sector, and VW’s paint shop. In fact, the top 10 fastest growing patents in the United states in 2020 included quantum computing. To be sure, many areas of quantum are in the research and development phase, which promises an exciting future, yet business people want to know there’s a near-term payoff and an opportunity to remain competitive without diverting too much attention from their core business.
Lesson #4: Be Clear on How Much Each Party Needs to Know About Quantum?
Often CEO’s and CTO’s will listen amenably to a pitch on quantum technology, keeping their respective ears to the ground, taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. Yet with the speed at which quantum breakthroughs are happening, vendors increasing in number all along the quantum tech stack and countries providing access to billions in funding, companies yet to engage need to invest. How? At the very least, they should be engaging a quantum strategist – someone who understands the quantum marketplace, what is hype and what is not, priorities within the business, an ability to develop monitor and champion a quantum roadmap, and speak the language of both business and quantum. They are rare in 2021, but worth their weight in gold as quantum evolves.
Lesson #5: Understand the Value of First, Second & Third-Person Experience
Finally, I reinforce to clients, colleagues and through my writing that it is critical to gain multiple perspectives through three levels of experience. First-hand experience, in this case, means you might venture out to see a quantum computing lab in person, write a Qiskit program, ask your team what problems they are having difficulty solving and decide if they are “quantum-compatible”. Second-hand means talk to someone using quantum technology today (maybe someone on the above list), ask about their experience, and interview quantum scientists or engineers. Third-hand experience refers to reading about others’ experiences. Don’t limit yourself to mainstream media, or articles that tend to hype new breakthroughs or major investments – get a well-rounded view of the challenges and wins.
As the quantum ecosystem continues to evolve it’s important for consumers to consider this message: “Don’t run towards quantum technology. Walk. And, if you haven’t already, start today.” By no means is the foregoing article a complete list of lessons required for the adoption of quantum computing, however they represent key concepts businesses interested in the technology should adopt themselves, for what will be a very exciting ride.
The Quantum Strategy Institute’s purpose is to demystify quantum technology and encourage the development of a pragmatic quantum mindset within the global business community, sharing practical applications and offering strategies for its successful adoption.
Brian Lenahan is the Founder & Chair of the Quantum Strategy Institute. He is the author of four Amazon-published books on artificial intelligence including the Bestseller “Quantum Boost: Using Quantum Computing to Supercharge your Business”. Brian is a former executive in a Top 10 North American bank, and mentors innovative companies in the Halton and Hamilton (Canada) areas. His training in quantum computers comes from CERN/University of Oviedo, and Technische Universiteit Delft, and he writes extensively on quantum computing.
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