Quantum computing: get on board now and build up skills

Authors: Jana Lehner & Andreas Rohnfelder

Quantum computers have the potential to solve previously hopeless or time- and resource-consuming problems. Companies that get to grips with this technology at an early stage can gain significant competitive advantages. After a few companies have tested out quantum computers, there is currently a real hype that is accelerating further development enormously. This already highlights the need for rapid entry.

 

Quantum technology and especially quantum computing will establish itself as a new economic sector. In order to avoid economic and technological dependence on a few leading market participants, early and consistent entry is necessary. On the one hand, it is a matter of developing and providing the technology, including the components and manufacturing processes. This can be done through in-house developments but also through industrial partnerships. On the other hand, the specific approach based on quantum physics requires the development of new methods for application. Here, the specific problems of the sectors must be formulated in such a way that they can be processed with quantum technological methods and procedures. As in the classical IT world, the essential added value only arises in the optimal combination with applications that use the specific advantages of quantum computers.

 

Barriers to entry

Quantum technologies are currently still in the early stages, but are developing rapidly. Institutions or companies can use this opportunity to contribute to the development of de facto and industry standards and norms. Publications on scientific and technical innovations appear almost daily, but also presentations for marketing purposes. 

While experienced IT experts can quickly assess new tech trends and adapt them for themselves (e.g. cloud, blockchain, containers), there is a psychological barrier with quantum computing. Quantum physical phenomena are not intuitive enough for our human mind, which has been trained by sensory perception of macro-physical phenomena. This means that the physical principles underlying quantum technologies are only understandable to a few specialists from science and application development. This makes it difficult to realistically evaluate the numerous publications.

In the initial phase, very high investments are sometimes required without a guaranteed return. Although numerous funding programmes are launched, the long-term protection of investments is not guaranteed. Smaller or medium-sized companies with successful business models without quantum technologies will tend to wait before using them. 

 

Competences

To overcome these barriers, understanding and knowledge must be built up first and foremost. The efficient use of quantum technologies requires personnel with very specialised knowledge in the initial phase, which can only be found on the labour market to a limited extent. The necessary adaptation of the education system will not immediately produce suitable skilled workers. In addition to understanding the new technologies made possible by the use of quantum physical effects, it is important for companies to question their own processes and methods: Which problems are difficult to solve but are critical to the company's success? Can processes and methods be made more efficient through the use of quantum technologies? To get started, it is also important to understand the market. What standards must exist in order to be able to integrate components in a meaningful way? Which companies can develop and supply these components?

 

Entry scenarios and bridging technologies

Quantum computing has disruptive potential: companies that recognise and address it early on can not only become more competitive in their markets (for example, by optimising the use of resources using quantum computing), but also open up or create completely new markets.Waiting until quantum technologies have reached mainstream status, i.e. are a completely established technology, does not bring competitive advantages. New markets are likely to be occupied by that time. Furthermore, the integration of new technologies into existing processes often needs a significant lead time. An example of this is job shop scheduling (assigning production jobs to different machines with the goal of the shortest total production time), where this assignment could be done in real time with quantum computers, even for large scenarios.

 

Therefore, companies should answer at least the following three questions for their situation:

  1. What are the opportunities arising from quantum technology? 

  2. What is the potential return on investment of each opportunity?

  3. What other factors play a role in the introduction and use of quantum technologies?

In addition to the advisory expertise of industrial companies, there are corresponding centres in individual federal states. One example is the QT.NMWP.NRW in North Rhine-Westphalia, which offers an overview of the expertise in quantum technologies available in NRW as well as contact to relevant actors and institutions. In Bavaria, Bayern Innovativ offers similar services.

 

There are three entry points for quantum computing:

  • Quantum computers with a three-digit number of qubits, through which applications up to a certain problem size can be implemented.
  • Quantum simulators, which simulate a quantum computer up to a certain maximum number of qubits on standard hardware. Simulators are particularly useful for training and educational purposes, as well as for testing new algorithms.
  • Quantum emulators, in which quantum effects are emulated in special silicon technology. Quantum emulators promise advantages especially for solving combinatorial optimisation tasks.

There are several ways for companies to tap into quantum technologies. One is to actively participate in the development of new technologies and corresponding supply chains. The other is the use of existing and future quantum systems and applications in the company. Even if companies do not see an immediate entry into quantum technology through these two direct routes, it is possible to participate in the provision of necessary components because quantum technologies in part require completely new approaches and also require a range of novel products. 

 

The action plan for industries

Companies need to get to grips with quantum computing. For Germany, the development of algorithms is just as important as hardware development. With a few exceptions, market-leading software applications do not currently come from Germany - quantum computing also offers new opportunities here. In many medium-sized and larger companies, there are employees who have a mathematical or physical background on the topic of quantum mechanics. These colleagues can initiate the discussion of quantum technologies and assess the opportunities and risks for the company.

 

 

This article has originally been published on the German news feed of Quantum Summit 2022's media partner Datacenter Insider. Find the German article here. For our website, it has been translated to English.

Andreas Rohnfelder is also going to be a speaker at this year's conference. Don't forget to sign up for free to get the chance to meet him.