Is quantum computing the solution to the supply chain manager’s big data challenge?
Make no mistake, the exponential growth in data volumes and complexity that supply chain managers have to cope with is only going to continue. The internet of things alone will set off a tsunami of sensor data in the coming years. Supply chain managers will need new capabilities to cope with the massive challenges ahead. Is quantum computing (QC) the answer?
Supply chains – an ideal early adopter of quantum computing
QC will deliver far higher computing speeds. More than that, it will be capable of tackling problems that are not possible to solve even with today’s fastest conventional computers. To put it into perspective, while the power of a conventional computer can be roughly doubled by doubling its transistors, a quantum computer’s power can be roughly doubled by adding one qubit.
QC will thus be able to effortlessly crunch though the ever-growing masses of data needed to effectively manage today’s highly complex supply chains. It will also be able to handle new and far more sophisticated computational models and algorithms. Imagine real-time tracking and visualization of materials flows or fleet vehicles with ultra-fine-grained data. Or think of on-the-fly rescheduling of inventories and production systems in response to high-precision predictions of changes in demand. It is difficult to overstate the impact that an increase in computing power of several orders of magnitude will have on the way we run and manage logistics operations.
Quantum computers are ideally suited for solving precisely the kinds of complex optimization problems that supply chain logistics are faced with daily. Quantum systems will have little trouble dealing with the ever-rising complexity conventional systems are increasingly struggling with today – from advanced route planning and flexible rescheduling of shipments across multi-stage supply chain networks to multiple scenario analysis and back-testing with historical data to improve organizational structures.
Powerful computers running on subatomic architectures will have no trouble recognizing causal patterns underlying changes in demand. Picture a system capable of instantaneously recognizing the drivers of demand for specific products, from economic fundaments and extreme weather events to the ever-present possibility of virus outbreaks we have all become painfully aware of in recent months.
But also consider the implications at the level individual consumer demand. To what extent could a cognitive model fed with the right data accurately predict the future behavior of consumers and thus inform high-precision supply chain planning? Backed by QC, companies could ensure that they have the right products and supplies in the right place at the right time and in the right quantity, thereby optimizing revenue while massively lowering inventory costs.
The growing adoption of IoT and Industry 4.0 capabilities coupled with the ever-increasing incidence and sophistication of cyberattacks on businesses poses a major challenge for supply chain managers.
Current data encryption protocols are vulnerable not only to future quantum systems, but also to ever-more powerful binary computers. The shift to quantum-secure encryption is therefore inevitable.
The probabilistic nature of quantum information means that it cannot be precisely copied. This is game-changing with respect to data security, as it permits the development of encryption methods that are fundamentally unhackable owing to the laws of physics in contrast to the current reliance on complex algorithms.
The quantum future will catch many by surprise
Advances in QC are coming hard and fast. Big players, among them Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft, are investing heavily and resolutely in developing large-scale QC hardware. Small-scale QC are already operational today. Some industry insiders are confident that qubits will soon begin to replace binary systems in specific use cases, and supply chains are an ideal candidate for early adoption.
Qubits will revolutionize the logistics sector, with quantum-based optimization leading to vastly reduced costs in manufacturing and faster delivery of materials. The ability to adopt and integrate the quantum capabilities will prove a major stress-test for all businesses dependent on modern supply chains.
What can you do to prepare? Start identifying and talking to the QC experts in your organization. They can already begin to experiment with the cloud-based quantum computers available today. Consider the most likely use cases. Feel free to reach out to us at Accenture if you need a sparring partner for your ideas. Above all, keep track of the QC space and don’t let it catch you by surprise.