Stefano Perini (Senior Research Analyst, Customer Insights & Analysis)

Quantum computing has a very good chance of becoming the next revolution in the computing world. Even though we’re still far from the commercial maturity of real quantum computing applications, companies, universities, and research institutions worldwide are working hard to fill in the technical gaps to make those technologies ready for business.

This was clear during the Quantum.Tech Digital Week (June 15–19, 2020), the online edition of the Quantum.Tech European event that should have taken place in April in London. Quantum.Tech is one of the pivotal business-oriented events in the field of quantum applications, connecting people from IT companies, start-ups, academia, research institutions, and governments.

The event shines a light on worldwide quantum computing developments, highlighting the most recent technological advancements as well as the first insights and road maps for quantum applications experimentation and adoption in a business context. The event is also an opportunity for leading companies working on quantum computing — such as Google, Honeywell, IBM, and Rigetti — to present their latest research updates.

Quantum Technological Race Is Accelerating

It’s clear that the overall effort of IT companies in quantum research and development is increasing, and that the announcements of more and more performing prototypes are multiplying. Honeywell has announced the highest-performing quantum machine currently available, a trapped ion quantum computer with a “quantum volume” of 64. The quantum volume doesn’t represent the number of qubits (which is 6 for Honeywell’s machine) but the overall capabilities of a quantum computer in terms of execution of larger quantum circuits and hence the complexity of problems it can solve.

After the announcement of the so-called “quantum supremacy” achievement in 2019, Google introduced during the event the results of the largest quantum chemistry simulation and the largest quantum approximate optimization to date, as well as its new open-source framework for quantum machine learning, TensorFlow Quantum. Also, IBM introduced its latest advancements in Qiskit’s circuit library and algorithms, and how they are co-designing codes and hardware to improve the error correction process. Rigetti presented its efforts in quantum hardware scaling, and in particular in cryogenic systems with large qubit capacity and modular quantum processing unit (QPU).

If we consider the number of other IT companies (e.g., AWS, QC Ware), start-ups (e.g., Aliro, Oxford Quantum Computing), universities (e.g., University of Cologne, Imperial College London), and research institutions (U.K. Innovation & Research, Russian Quantum Center) that took part in the debate by presenting their technical achievements, we can see the impressive increase in contributions from all over the nascent quantum computing ecosystem.

Quantum Technologies and Business: Growing Interest from End-User Companies

Technology, of course, is just one side of the quantum computing coin. Though it’s still some way off, the proper experimentation and deployment of quantum applications in a business context will be ever more crucial for quantum computing success. In particular, industries and use cases suitable for quantum computing development should be identified and exploited right away to be ready for real business impact when the underlying technology reaches maturity. IT companies taking part in Quantum.Tech Digital Week are increasingly aware of this, and the event was also an opportunity to see some interesting examples of quantum experimentations across different verticals.

Applications mentioned throughout the week involve several end-user companies in materials science and chemistry (Covestro, BASF, Johnson Matthey), manufacturing (Airbus, BMW, Volkswagen, Rolls Royce), finance (Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Standard Chartered Bank, Morgan Stanley, ABN AMRO), healthcare (GSK, Roche), utilities and oil and gas (Total, E.ON), and telecommunications (Telecom Italia, BT). All the experimentations are still at an R&D level, but it’s already possible to see the main problems quantum technology is trying to solve there, namely optimization (especially in manufacturing), machine learning (finance), simulation (chemistry), and secure communication (telecommunications).

Quantum Computing: A Key Challenge for the Future of Technology

The road to effective quantum technologies is still long and full of obstacles, but the Quantum.Tech Digital Week sent an optimistic message for the future.

Besides purely technological challenges to be addressed (e.g., stability of the system, error correction), a key to the potentially revolutionary success of quantum computing will be the achievement of significant business impact for companies. For this to happen, IT companies and the whole European quantum ecosystem in general should consider the following recommendations:

  • Partner with top research centers and start-ups worldwide to create efficient innovation ecosystems to reach the necessary R&D critical mass.
  • Adopt a “hardware-agnostic” approach for applications development to avoid switching between different types of quantum technologies as they evolve, and develop a “hybrid quantum-classical approach, as quantum will likely support and not fully replace traditional computers.
  • Identify and focus on the most promising industries and use cases, and adopt a business-oriented language to involve and make an increasing number of end-user companies aware of quantum’s potential.
  • Focus on skills and quantum tech talent recruitment and, in the near future, on the importance of training real “quantum business consultants” to link the technology to the business needs of end-user companies.

For more on IDC’s European Quantum Computing Launchpad market research, you can listen to a free recording of my presentation Quantum Computing in Europe: The Road to Business Impact at Quantum.Tech Digital Week, or contact me directly at