IBM Pushes Quantum for Business

Other major system providers pursuing quantum computing initiatives, but none are pursuing it as methodically or persistently as IBM. In a recent announcement:  IBM’s Institute for Business Value introduced a five-step roadmap to bring quantum computing to your organization.

Into IBM Q computation center: dilution refrigerators with microwave electronics (middle) that provide Q Network cloud access to 20-qubit processor. (Credit: Connie Zhou)

Start by familiarizing yourself with superposition and entanglement, which enable quantum computers to solve problems intractable for today’s conventional computers:

Superposition. A conventional computer uses binary bits that can only depict either 1 or 0. Instead, quantum computers use qubits that can depict a 1 or 0, or any combination by superposition of the qubits’ possible states. This supplies quantum computers with an exponential set of states they can explore to solve certain types of problems better than conventional computers.

Entanglement. In the quantum world, two qubits located even light-years apart can still act in ways that are strongly correlated. Quantum computing takes advantage of this entanglement to encode problems that exploit this correlation between qubits.

The quantum properties of superposition and entanglement enable quantum computers to rapidly explore an enormous set of possibilities to identify an optimal answer that could maximize business value. As future quantum computers can calculate certain answers exponentially faster than today’s conventional machines, they will enable tackling business problems that are exponentially more complex.

Despite conventional computers’ limitations, quantum computers are not expected to replace them in the foreseeable future. Instead, hybrid quantum-conventional architectures are expected to emerge that, in effect, outsource portions of difficult problems to a quantum computer.

Already Quantum computing appears ripe to transform certain industries. For instance, current computational chemistry methods rely heavily on approximation because the exact equations cannot be solved by conventional computers. Similarly, quantum algorithms are expected to deliver accurate simulations of molecules over longer timescales, currently impossible to model precisely. This could enable life-saving drug discoveries and significantly shorten the number of years required to develop complex pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, quantum computing’s anticipated ability to solve today’s impossibly complex logistics problems could produce considerable cost savings and carbon footprint reduction. For example, consider improving the global routes of the trillion-dollar shipping industry (see Dancing Dinosaur’s recent piece on blockchain gaining traction). If quantum computing could improve container utilization and shipping volumes by even a small fraction, this could save shippers hundreds of millions of dollars. To profit from quantum computing’s advantages ahead of competitors, notes IBM, some businesses are developing expertise now to explore which use cases may benefit their own industries as soon as the technology matures.

To stimulate this type of thinking, IBM’s Institute of Business Value has come up with 5 steps to get you started:

  1. Identify your quantum champions. Assign this staff to learn more about the prospective benefits of quantum computing. Just designate some of your leading professionals as quantum champions and charge them with understanding quantum computing, its potential impact on your industry, your competitors’ response, and how your business might benefit. Have these champions report periodically to senior management to educate the organization and align progress to strategic objectives.
  2. Begin identifying quantum computing use cases and associated value propositions. Have your champions identify specific areas where quantum computing could propel your organization ahead of competitors. Have these champions monitor progress in quantum application development to track which use cases may be commercialized sooner. Finally, ensure your quantum exploration links to business results. Then select the most promising quantum computing applications, such as creating breakthrough products and services or new ways to optimize the supply chain.
  3. Experiment with real quantum systems. Demystify quantum computing by trying out a real quantum computer (IBM’s Q Experience). Have your champions get a sense for how quantum computing may solve your business problems and interface with your existing tools. A quantum solution may not be a fit for every business issue. Your champions will need to focus on solutions to address your highest priority use cases, ones that conventional computers can’t practically solve.
  4. Chart your quantum course. This entails constructing a quantum computing roadmap with viable next steps for the purpose of pursuing problems that could create formidable competitive barriers or enable sustainable business advantage. To accelerate your organization’s quantum readiness, consider joining an emerging quantum community. This can help you gain better access to technical infrastructure, evolving industry applications, and expertise that can enhance your development of specific quantum applications.
  5. Lastly, be flexible about your quantum future. Quantum computing is rapidly evolving. Seek out technologies and development toolkits that are becoming the industry standard, those around which ecosystems are coalescing. Realize that new breakthroughs may cause you to adjust your approach to your quantum development process, including changing your ecosystem partners. Similarly, your own quantum computing needs may evolve over time, particularly as you improve your understanding of which business issues can benefit most from quantum solutions.

Finally, actually have people in your organization try a quantum computer, such as through IBM’s Q program and Qiskit, a free development tool. Q provides a free 16-qubit quantum computer you don’t have to configure or keep cool and stable. That’s IBM’s headache.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog, and see more of his work at technologywriter.com.

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