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Get Ready for Quantum Computing: 5 Steps to Take in 2019

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IBM recently announced the first ‘commercial-ready’ quantum computer, the 20-qubit Q System One. The date is certainly worth recording in the annals of computing history. But, in much the same way that mainframes, micros, and PCs all began with an ‘iron launch’ and then required a long pragmatic use case maturity curve, so too will this initial offering from IBM be the first step on a long evolution path. With so much conjecture and contemplation happening in the industry surrounding this announcement, let’s unpack what IBM’s announcement means – and how organizations should be reacting.

First, although Q System One is being billed as commercial-ready, that designation means that the product is ready for usage on a traditional cloud computing basis, not necessarily that it is ready to contribute meaningfully to solving business problems (although the device will certainly mature quickly in both capability and speed). What Q System One does offer is a keystone for the industry to begin working with quantum technology in much the same way that any other cloud utility supercomputing devices are available, and a testbed for beginning to explore and develop quantum code and quantum computing strategies. As such, while Q System One may not outperform traditional cloud computing resources today, its successors will likely do so in short order – perhaps as soon as 2020.

As I noted in my blockchain predictions blog for 2019, quantum computing has long been the shadow over blockchain adoption, owing to the concern that quantum computing will make blockchain’s security aspect obsolete. That watershed lies years in our future, if indeed at all, and it is important to note that quantum computing can as easily be tasked to enhance cryptographic strength as it can to break it down. As a result, expect that the impact of quantum computing on blockchain will net to a zero-sum game, with quantum capabilities powering ever-more evolved cryptographic standards in much the same way that the cybersecurity arms race has proceeded to date.

With this in mind, what should organizations have on their quantum readiness roadmaps? The short answer is that quantum readiness is more the beginning of many long-term projects rather than the consummation of any short-term ones, so quantum is more a component of IT strategy than near-term tactical change. Here are five recommendations I’m making for beginning to ready your organization for quantum computing during 2019.

Migrate to SHA-3 – and build an agile cybersecurity faculty

There is no finish line for cybersecurity, especially with quantum capabilities on the horizon, but when I speak with enterprise organizations on the subject, I recommend that a combination of NIST and RSA/ECC technologies approximates to something that will be quantum-proof for the foreseeable future. Migration off of SHA-2 is a strong prescriptive regardless, given the flaws that platform shared with its predecessor. But perhaps more importantly than the construction of a cryptographic standard to meet quantum’s capabilities is the design of an agile cybersecurity faculty that can shorten the time to transition from one standard to the next. Quantum computing will produce overnight gains in both security and exposure as the technology evolves; being ready to take swift counteraction will be key in the next decade of information technology.

Begin asking entirely new questions in a Quantum CoE

Traditional computing technology has taught us clear phase lines of the possible and impossible with respect to solving business problems. Quantum, over the course of the next decade, will completely redraw those lines, with more capability coming online with each passing year (and, eventually, quarter). Tasks like modeling new supply chain algorithms, new modes of product delivery, even new projections of complex M&A activity in a sector over a long forecast span will become normal requests by 2030.

Make sure data hygiene and MDM protocols are quantum-ready

Already, there have been multiple technologies – Big Data, automation, and blockchain are just three – that have strongly suggested the need to ensure that organizations are running on clean, reliable data.

As business task flow accelerates, and more cognitive automation and smart contracts touch and interact with information as the first actor in the process chain, it is increasingly vital to ensure that these technologies are handling quality data. Quantum may be the last such opportunity to bring the car into the pit for adjustments before racing at full speed commences in sectors like retail, telecom, technology, and logistics. This is a to-do that benefits a broad array of technological deployment projects, so while it may not be relevant for quantum computing until the next decade begins, the benefits will begin to accrue from these efforts today.

Aim at a converged point involving data, analytics, automation & AI

Quantum computing is often discussed in the context of moonshot computing problems – and, indeed, the technology is currently best deployed against problems outside the realm of capability for legacy iron. But quantum will also power the move from offline or nearline processing to ‘now’ processing, so tasks that involve putting insights from Big Data environments to work in real-time will also fall within reach over the course of the next decade. What you may find from a combination of this action and the two prior is that some of the questions and projects you had slated for a quantum computing environment may actually be addressable today through a combination of cognitive technologies.

Reach out to partners, suppliers & customers to build a holistic quantum perspective

Legacy enterprise computing grew up as a ‘four-walls’ concept in part because of the complexity of tackling large, complex business optimization problems that involved moving parts outside the organization. Quantum does not automatically erase those boundary lines from an integration perspective, but the next decade will see more than enough computing power come online to optimize long, global supply chain performance challenges and cross-border regulatory and financing networks. Again, efforts in this area can also benefit organizational initiatives today; projects in IoT and blockchain, in particular, can achieve greater benefits when solutions are designed with partners, suppliers, regulators, and financiers involved up front.

Conclusion

Quantum computing is not going to change the landscape of enterprise IT tomorrow, or next month, or even next year. But when it does effect that change, organizations should expect its new capabilities to be game-changers – especially for those firms that planned well in advance to take advantage of quantum computing’s immense power.

This short checklist of quantum-readiness tasks can provide a framework for pre-quantum technology projects, too – making them an ideal roster of 2019 ‘to-dos’ for enterprise organizations.

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