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June 16, 2022updated 22 Jun 2022 4:21pm

UK businesses unprepared for quantum computing as government readies strategy

New research shows business leaders are not ready for quantum deployments. The government has plans to help.

By Ryan Morrison

Only a third of British companies have started actively planning for a quantum computing-dominated future, despite 81% of business leaders expecting significant industry disruption from the technology by 2030. The new research from EY comes as the UK government prepares to launch its quantum strategy, outlining how the technology can be used to tackle the big problems facing society.

quantum computer
Many businesses believe quantum computing will transform their industries, but aren’t ready for the technology. (Photo of IBM’s Quantum One machine, courtesy IBM press office)

The survey of 501 executives with an understanding of quantum computing was described as a “first of its kind” by Simon Plant, deputy director for innovation at the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), who told delegates at the Quantum Computing Summit in London today that it would “instruct us on the further engagement of UK businesses and how they will engage with quantum computing”.

Plant says the NQCC is ramping up its efforts to prepare the UK for a quantum future, including through commissioning projects with industry and academia and developing a 100+ qubit quantum computer at the soon-to-be-open quantum computing lab at Hartwell in Oxfordshire.

It forms part of wider efforts from the government on quantum. Speaking on day one of the summit on Wednesday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that the first quantum strategy is due to be published “in the coming months”.

The “National Strategy for Quantum Technologies (QT)” will encompass all quantum technologies and their enablers, not just quantum computing, according to a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and is “due for publication later this year”. It will build on the work done by the National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) since 2014.

UK quantum computing strategy: tackling society’s big challenges

Kwarteng told the summit: “In the coming months, I will launch a quantum strategy setting out a new direction for the sector.  We will focus on supporting early-stage businesses by maximising private investment. 

“Our quantum strategy will take a mission-led approach to tackle societal challenges using this tech. For example, could we harness quantum computing to massively accelerate drug development? Could we use it to help tackle climate change – perhaps by using simulations to simulate new materials, like solar cells? Or using quantum computing to model a new method of producing fertiliser – which could lead to hugely reduced carbon emissions.”

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The Ministry of Defence also purchased the government’s first quantum computer, a machine from British company ORCA, last week. It will be used to analyse data from multiple deployed sensors, and has the ability to pass data off to another computer for processing.

Plant and his team may face an uphill battle though, as despite a general feeling quantum is important for the future, only a minority of executives surveyed said they were actively preparing for the technology’s arrival, and just a quarter have appointed specialist leaders to run pilot teams.

“I think the interest is growing,” Plant says. “People are starting to talk to us about where use cases are developing but I think what is noteworthy is the diverse range of organisations from various sectors who are starting to engage with quantum computing even at this informative stage.”

While the majority of respondents think quantum will bring significant disruption to their industries by 2030, 41% predict some level of disruption as early as 2025, the survey revealed, with almost all respondents predicting some degree of disruption within their own organisation over the next five years.

Products and retail teams were the most optimistic about quantum deployments, suggesting the technology will play a significant role in their industry by 2025. In contrast, media, telecom and technology executives believe it will be more likely to happen between 2026 and 2035.

Piers Clinton-Tarestad, quantum computing leader at EY UK and Ireland, said: “This study reveals a disconnect between the pace at which industry leaders expect quantum to start significantly transforming businesses and their general preparedness for its impact.

“Maximising the potential of quantum technologies will require early planning to build responsive and adaptable organisational capabilities - which is a challenge because while the progress of quantum has accelerated it is not following a steady trajectory.”

Planning lagging behind

Businesses that "expect industry disruption within the next three or five years need to act now," Clinton-Tarestad added. But the survey reveals planning is lagging behind expected disruption, with almost three-quarters of those surveyed expecting to start planning for a quantum computer by 2024, which will involve recruiting people to lead quantum computing efforts. Only a quarter of those questioned have already employed dedicated quantum specialists but 71% plan to appoint someone within the next two years.

Plant said in his speech at the Quantum Computing Summit that the NQCC would be actively working to help companies prepare. This will include creating a 100-qubit demonstrator quantum computer and launching training programmes to bring on new specialists to meet future demand for staff as the industry grows.

“We are due to launch a new education training platform to help those interested in coding for quantum to go on that journey to develop the right skills and mindset,” he told delegates. “We also plan to announce a call for the first tranche of proposals, including feasibility study projects to look at use case implementation for quantum computing with industry and academia.”

Read more: UK quantum sector must develop its talent pipeline

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