Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence (AI) now — and rightly so. Especially in the field of generative AI, artificial intelligence will leave no stone unturned. But another technology is making progress that, in my opinion, will massively revolutionize the business world, if not society. I’m talking about quantum computing.
Leveraging quantum mechanical effects such as superposition, entanglement, and interference, quantum computers could soon be able to solve certain problems exponentially faster than classical computers. The disruptive power of quantum already shows promise in fields of application spanning from material science and cryptography to business optimization and AI.
A year ago, I tasked a team within SAP to study the unique features of quantum computers, with the goal to investigate how these features could solve complex business problems more quickly, accurately, and on a larger scale than ever before.
At the recent IBM Quantum Summit in New York, we presented the integration of IBM Quantum services into our vehicle space optimization component as a proof of concept. This marks an important milestone in the progress of quantum computing towards practical, real-world standard business solutions.
It is SAP’s mission as world-leading enterprise application provider to deliver the benefits of quantum computing via our solutions to our customers.
While still a proof of concept, this engine’s connection to quantum systems demonstrates the potential for quantum computing to solve real-world business problems, such as packing a truck with assorted beverages, using a fundamentally new approach. Instead of simulating every possible packing combination, the quantum solver leverages the inherent parallelism of quantum to evaluate multiple possibilities, showing how to find a significantly superior solution than a classical computer.
In recognition of the rapidly evolving quantum computing ecosystem, SAP partnered with IBM, which offers a comprehensive suite of quantum hardware, software, and services accessible via the IBM Cloud and has an impressive multi-year technology road map.
How did we approach this?
Our exemplary standard component, vehicle space optimization, is directly leveraging quantum computing capabilities, fully automized within our application and technology environment. At the core of this innovation is the enhancement of SAP’s optimization engine through the incorporation of a potent quantum solver.
Quantum optimization today is about tackling quadratic optimization problems. We augmented the optimization engine with the capabilities to map a business problem to such a quadratic formulation to then feed the quantum computer. This allows us to leverage different algorithms; for example, the well-known QAOA. The results coming back from the quantum computer, which are inherently probabilistic, are then post-processed within the optimization engine.
Going one level deeper into the specifics, while high-level programming languages are common in classical computing, quantum computers today are programmed by formulating quantum circuits at gate-level. With our approach, we encapsulate the complex specific implementation of the quantum circuit within our engine, so that ultimately our ecosystem — customers, consultants, developers — will be able to leverage quantum computing for business problems without studying quantum physics.
Despite the excitement surrounding these developments, SAP acknowledges that quantum computers in the current noisy intermediate scale quantum computing (NISQ) era are still too small and too noisy to deliver superior results directly. However, significant progress in the scale and quality of quantum computing in recent years prompted SAP’s collaboration with IBM to explore the current frontier of quantum computing.
The integration of IBM Quantum systems into SAP’s cloud-native optimization service results in a platform to address the gaps that need to be bridged in the coming years. This significant step marks a crucial milestone in SAP’s journey toward the next generation of enterprise software for better business operations and value creation.
As SAP continues to push the boundaries of what is possible, the industry watches with anticipation, ready for a future reshaped by quantum computing.
Philipp Herzig is head of Cross Product Engineering and Experience at SAP.
Top image courtesy of SAP employee Sangeetha Krishnamoorthy.