When global supply chains were disrupted during Covid-19, America’s busiest port, Los Angeles, found itself swamped with containers piling up from around the globe. It turned to quantum computing to solve the congestion.
It then found it could move higher amounts of cargo more rapidly than if it just relied on conventional computing. And now the Port of Rotterdam is following suit in adopting quantum technology to enhance operations.
In an ever-competitive global market, businesses compete not necessarily based on brands but on their supply chain agility and efficiency. Still-nascent quantum tech can enhance resource utilisation and warehouse capacity in managing inventory.
Quantum computing offers businesses a massive opportunity to solve complex problems by considerably speeding up data-driven decision-making.
Supply chain businesses have faced difficulties in controlling data fragmentation, disruptive events and the constant fluctuation in customer demand which regularly create supply chain hiccups.
Speedy and accurate decision-making with voluminous data amid such complexities requires higher computation capabilities than conventional computers can handle.
The exploration of quantum computing will continue to expand and lead to real-world applications. A recent report by McKinsey projected the value of quantum computing to reach US$700 billion by 2035.
The World Economic Forum, meanwhile, identifies quantum computing as one of the five emerging technologies to watch this year.
This study predicts that given the evolving market, Schumpeter’s theory – that innovation-originated market power provides more effective results than pure price competition – will increasingly drive businesses to incorporate emerging technologies into their existing infrastructure for competitive advantage.
Today’s conventional computers rely on transistors to calculate using the binary logic in digits or ‘bits’ with each bit represented by either 0 or 1. However, quantum computers are not constrained by the logic principle but use quantum mechanics – the branch of physics that deals with the behaviour of matter and light on a subatomic and atomic level.
What makes it superior to conventional computing is that it not only calculates in bits but also in quantum bits or ‘qubits’ at the subatomic level using electrons and photons. This allows more calculations to take place simultaneously rather than one after another, meaning complex problems can be solved at an exponential rate compared to conventional computing.
For instance, Google scientists published a study demonstrating that their quantum processor required only about 200 seconds to complete a task that would have taken a state-of-the-art supercomputer 10,000 years.
This can benefit industries involved in global supply chain management as quantum computing is most applicable where big datasets are involved for simulations or modelling, forecasting and mapping interactions.
It offers potential supply chain optimisation in product development, purchasing, production planning, inventory management and logistics.
Quantum computing can also help companies shorten the time between product development and market launch. In one case, German automaker BMW collaborated with a quantum computing company to accelerate the design and development of parts via simulation. By optimising the process, parts could be rapidly tested and the design validated.
Global professional services firm Ernst & Young provides two cases of quantum computing in logistics and transportation optimisation.
In the first case, Coca-Cola Japan aimed to optimise the delivery route to improve service turnaround time for 700,000 vending machines. In the second, a logistics company partnered with Microsoft to maximise freight transportation while balancing factors such as traffic conditions and driver preferences.
Supply chain success depends on managing costs, matching demand and supply accurately, and delivering products and services timely from end to end. However, businesses usually face constraints as they have to manage the flow of information, materials, and finance within the supply chain across multiple parties over various locations, requiring complex decision-making processes.
A key driver to developing supply chain agility and efficiency is technological innovation. In particular, digitalisation and the adoption of emerging technologies like quantum computing can significantly transform existing business models by harnessing huge amounts of data to improve the supply chain process.
Such strategies require increasing computing power infrastructure to help businesses leverage data to make decisions.
It is all not a bed of roses, however – encryption threats can arise. Quantum computing’s processing prowess and velocity can decrypt conventional cybersecurity systems leading to data breaches. Companies will need to employ quantum cryptography to combat this.
Quantum computing will be a strategic investment, especially for large corporations or multinationals. However, businesses that lack funding or access to the technology risk falling behind due to a quantum divide.
Andrei Kwok is senior lecturer and director of graduate coursework studies, Department of Management, School of Business, Monash University Malaysia.