Quantum computing is set to revolutionise our lives and our businesses, yet the technology’s early stage of development and complexity imply that executives cannot know when the revolution will occur. Even if they cannot predict its advent, they must anticipate it by continuously sensing technological advancements and staying alert to the incoming impact on their business.
If Pharaoh Ramesses I in 1290 BC had the most advanced supercomputer available today, and launched a particularly complex calculation, the results would be available about now: 3,300 years later. A quantum computer can complete the same calculation in 11 minutes. You may be wondering how such impressive technology will change your life and your business. We think it is time to take quantum computing very seriously and map the many opportunities and pitfalls it is about to create.
As Shohini Ghose notes in a popular Ted Talk (above), quantum technology is as big a paradigm shift for computing as the light bulb was for lighting systems. Ready to go from candles and gas lamps to the light bulb? It will enable tackling business problems that are exponentially more complex than the ones we can address today. This will revolutionize a broad range of applications, including cryptography, drug discovery, machine learning, optimization, financial modelling and R&D.
Quantum computing is a cutting-edge technology that leverages the principles of quantum mechanics to process and store information. Rather than employing the current computing system based on binary digits (0s and 1s), quantum computing employs qbits, which allow for hybrid states in between 0s and 1s. This exceptional possibility enables increased computational power and problem-solving power that are currently unattainable, even by supercomputers.
Not only opportunities, but also pitfalls
The wide range of applications of quantum computing opens new – immense – possibilities for businesses. However, history has taught us that radical innovations create opportunities and dangers in equal measure. This does not happen because of the radical innovations per se, but more because of managers and executives underestimating their impact.
25 years on, Clay Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma still holds: Established companies struggle to embrace radical innovations disrupting or changing their existing markets because of their extreme focus on current customers and profit maximization.
Therefore, here is some bad news if you still hope your business will not be affected by the quantum revolution: It will be. Very slowly at first, and then suddenly.
Getting ready for the quantum break
How can managers navigate the paradigm change that quantum computing will bring? The first instinct of many executives would lead them to try to understand when this change will occur. According to McKinsey & Co, a reasonable date for seeing a real impact of quantum computing on businesses could be around 2030.
However, as long as no one can look into the future with precision, our idea is that companies should embrace a different approach from prediction: preparedness. In this case, preparedness means constantly monitoring and rapidly iterating to adapt to change.
To get prepared for the quantum revolution, the “when” is less important than “how.” Here is how: sensing technological advancements, seizing business impact and transforming companies to prepare for change.
Sensing technological advancements to feed the sense of urgency for change
Perceiving the technological development of quantum computing can help managers to constantly recalibrate the sense of urgency for quantum change in their businesses.
To date, quantum computing architectures are extremely complex and expensive to implement, also requiring large investments in R&D. It is unlikely that the evolution of such architectures will happen anytime soon and in places other than big technology corporations (e.g. IBM, Google). Keeping an eye on their progress both in raw performance and in early applications will give executives an idea of where the world is headed.
Moreover, managers should pay attention to rapidly decreasing cost trajectories. Over time, the cost of developing quantum computers will drop sensibly, opening the field to new entrants like start-ups and smaller ventures. Some signals that cost trajectories might change soon are the increase of active quantum start-ups and the doubled quantum computing funding they raised: up to 1.4 billion dollars between 2020 and 2021.
Seize the quantum impact on your business
Beside sensing technological advancements, managers definitely need to seize the impact of quantum computing on their business. To do so, executives should first map where in their value chain the quantum technology could create either more added value or more process redesign. It is very unlikely that the pervasiveness of the technology will be instantaneous along the whole value chain. Identifying the most critical activities that could mostly benefit from quantum technologies will enable to urge and prioritize activities in such business areas.
For instance, quantum computing is expected to give human resource departments the ability to powerfully analyse prospective employees based on thousands of parameters, as well as to compare them – in real time – with millions of other CVs. Although this seems powerful, it will not be as strategic for some companies as for others. For example, manufacturing companies would presumably not care and instead focus on applications for the optimization of operations and logistics (e.g., vehicle routing). Perhaps, when the time comes, manufacturing companies will outsource HR altogether and instead hire HR-as-a-Service from a quantum-powered service provider. Technology has a long history of redrawing the boundaries of corporations.
Quantum task forces might reveal a powerful way to transform the business and progressively support seizing and sensing.
A word of caution is in order, however, since the most transformative effects are not necessarily the first to reach maturity. Even to this day, AI is considered a threat to manual jobs because they have been automated – at least in part – first. But there is a limit to how much physical work can be automated. On the other hand, according to Moravec’s paradox, AI is actually better suited to higher cognitive tasks, and so bound to have the greatest impact on intellectual professions. It may just take a bit longer to do so. So, impact and timing do not always proceed in parallel.
Therefore, seizing the impact on the value chain entails prioritizing actions and avoiding to keep paying excessive managerial attention only to technological advancements or success stories hyped by the news. There is no one-size-fits-all method, but quantum task forces might reveal a powerful way to transform the business and progressively support seizing and sensing.
Transform your approach to quantum computing
To avoid being surprised when the quantum leap comes, firms should improve their capability of sensing the environment and seizing the opportunities for their businesses. To do so, start developing use cases. Once again, a word of caution against excessive simplification is in order. This approach might distract from a more systemic view of the phenomenon, thus underscoring the importance of seizing.
Another simple way of doing this is to adopt a transformative approach. To do so, organizations can create a quantum task force to enforce sensing and seizing activities. Such a team of current employees should be as heterogeneous as possible (e.g., IT, operations, sales and marketing specialists), but not very large (e.g., 4 to 5 persons). Their function is to perform external scouting to sense quantum technological advancements and to understand how such technology will impact different business components.
Whatever the industry or the business, quantum computing is coming.
In terms of organisation, this team should be as close as possible to the C-Suite. This way, opportunities and threats can be rapidly escalated to executives and integrated into the strategic discussion to allocate investments in quantum computing as soon as needed. Whatever the industry or the business, quantum computing is coming. Although we were approaching stoppage time, creating multidisciplinary teams to systematically track technological developments and business impact will help organisations catch up on this revolutionary change.
Daniele Battaglia is an Assistant professor of Strategy at ESCP Business School (Turin campus). He got his PhD from Politecnico di Torino, and he conducts research at the intersection between strategy, innovation and technology management.
Alessandro Lanteri is Full Professor of Strategy at ESCP Business School (Turin campus), where he teaches and is in charge of executive education programmes. An expert educator, he helps organisations seize the opportunities of turbulent environments. His book “CLEVER” became an international bestseller. His latest book, “Innovating with Impact,” is published by The Economist
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