Keeping clients one step ahead – the DigiLab story (Part #2)

Immersion. Inspiration. Ideation. Implementation.

Digital transformation projects are often mission-critical, and therefore usually urgent. There’s a need to quickly unearth and interrogate challenges, sift the solution options and get things into test and development. To get this process powerfully kick-started, we start by immersing our customers in a rich universe of use cases, latest technologies and sector insight helping them bounce off best-practice learning and quickly leap-frog ahead.

Why cross-fertilize between sectors?

When the genetic material of two parents is recombined in nature, it delivers a greater variability on which natural selection can act. This increases a species’ ability to adapt to its changing environment and boosts its chances of survival. The same is true with transformation projects: the greater the importing, mixing and cross-fertilization of ideas from other sectors, processes and initiatives, the stronger and more adaptable products and services become.

Goodbye tail-chasing and closed loops

Silicon Valley is a great example of how cross-fertilization leads to innovation. As one of the most innovative ecosystems in the world, it nurtures a culture that is open to new people and thinking, promoting the healthy circulation of fresh ideas and profitable exploration of approaches outside their own industries and business practices. Similarly, using cross-fertilization lets us proactively free ourselves from cognitive immobility so we stop going around in circles, locked in our own stale and habitual thinking.

By transposing proven use cases and adapting systems already developed by another industry, we can:

  • Invent a platform for true market disruption breaking away from locked in patterns
  • Implement faster because preparatory work is already in place
  • Greatly reduce time to market and increase the possibility of competitive advantage
  • Co-create innovation with other client organizations to reduce costs
  • Connect with like-minded leaders around results and user experience to aid buy-in

Keeping clients one step ahead – the DigiLab story (Part #1)

Stasis is the enemy of success

Sopra Steria is lucky to work with some the world’s most exciting companies. It’s our job to help them transform digitally, across sectors as diverse as education, hospitality and aerospace. That means our organization is packed with know-how, experience and progressive thinking. Clients trust us to roll out integrated IT platforms and modernize their application stacks, but they are not always aware of how innovative, disruptive and forward-thinking our organization can be. This is why DigiLabs exists

In 2014, Eric Maman — one of our senior innovation consultants — decided to create a dedicated hub ruthlessly focused on innovation: cross-fertilized, federated, multi-disciplinary. A way for clients to immerse themselves in the wealth of Sopra Steria insight across our areas of expertise, sectors and technologies and turbo-charge their own digital transformation projects to rapidly eliminate waste and create new value.

He created the first DigiLabs based at our Paris HQ — today we have 24 innovation hubs around the world working as one seamless network from France, Spain and the UK to Germany, Norway, India and Singapore. This series of blogs tells their story and explains how public and private sector organizations are working with DigiLabs right now to foster creativity, strengthen idea generation and transform perennial operational problems into feasible and profitable new ways of working. Because in today’s fast-moving world, standing still is a dangerous strategy .

Shaping smarter thinking, together

Delivering tech for tech’s sake is not the DigiLab way. Instead we shape innovation around our customers’ most urgent use-cases, asking ourselves: can we harness the best of what’s out there to craft robust new approaches and think in exciting new ways about their challenges, audiences and stakeholders?

Through the DigiLab experience, customers work with our expert teams to:

  • Brainstorm creatively around technology, people and process
  • Identify pains and weakness with field observation and interviews
  • Anticipate new uses of performance-enhancing technologies
  • Create robust use-cases for innovation, supported by best-practice learning
  • Cross-fertilize insight from sectors to adapt and optimize solution design
  • Roll out innovation enterprise-wide and keep it current as the world changes

Hourglass: Transparent Timekeeping

How a simple conversation with a client about time-keeping led to some late nights, reflection on project tracking & a simple progressive web app…

Good morning/afternoon/evening (delete as appropriate)!

My name is Bryce Wilson; Lead UI developer for the UK Design Team based in Edinburgh. I currently work across multiple projects and platforms and it can be hard to track what I work on and for whom. For the client, it can be frustrating when they can’t get a fixed timeline on my availability.

Around the same time I was coming to the end of ‘yet-another-notepad’ scribble of loose time keeping, I had a chat with one of the project managers for a fantastic client I work with.

He was concerned that he wasn’t able to have a visible overview of all the contractors and consultants in his team. This is primarily down to the flexibility the project offers to the team; early starts, late finishes, working from home on occasions etc.

This screamed out an opportunity to fill a few needs with one deed:

  • Upskill myself on a few new technologies I’ve been itching to try
  • Get rid of my legion of notepads with illegible cave drawings and scribbles
  • Supply a very cool and awesome client with a solution that will enable them to continue providing us with a flexible working environment
  • Demonstrate to the wider community a landslide of user-centered design approaches being developed daily within the UK Design Team (headed up by Luke Jeavons) such as:
    • User Journeys – A visual representation of a path a user may take to reach their goal when using a particular product or service.
    • Usability Testing – To validate the effectiveness of the design and the way the user interacts with the system. This can highlight potential inconsistencies and issues with the product or service.
    • Wireframes – A visual guide that represents the page structure, as well as its hierarchy and key elements.
    • Interactive Prototypes – To show how interactive elements will work. Enables the product or service to be visualised, tested and validated before further development.
    • + much more

After speaking with some fellow upstanding colleagues, I took it upon myself to define an MVP backlog of simple requirements:

  • Allow access to a ‘clock-in’ system via any device and bypass any requirements for an installation
  • Login with work email
  • Allow manual entries of working hours
  • Allow a clock in/out feature
  • Keep it simple, avoid that (points in horror at existing time reporting tools in the market)

Given this was a pet project I didn’t want to overreach and take focus away from day-to-day within the Compass project and the Design Team so I gathered my weapons of choice and began.

Frameworks & Services

In order to maximize the time and effort spent getting this from farm to fork:

  • Contentful – an AMAZING headless CMS that has insane API control and access. I have utilized this to store and retrieve data in a fully secure environment
  • Vue.js – The MacDaddy of JS frameworks. I work with Angular, React, Node, etc and Vue.js slays them all dead. End of.
  • Element.io – A clean and simple Vue.js orientated components library for all the basic needs
  • Azure – The Sopra Steria single sign-on application front
  • Heroku – Free and simple app hosting with CD/CI Pipelines
  • Custom Node.js API Service – I have developed a customised API service to enable continuity of other applications I have created (regardless of framework) to knit together user and information

It started with a few hours in the evenings while my expectant wife lay on the couch binge watching Forensic Files (If I suddenly disappear, you know who to point the finger at!) I melted into my coding chair and got to work.

A few nights in and it begins to take shape; implementing simple features such as project and team control which is operated in the Contentful Dashboard. This allows me to add additional projects as they come up.

The first release of the app to my inner circle highlighted some interesting results:

  • Observation: One user found it difficult to navigate their way back to the current week & also found it time consuming to try to get to December for example, to input time
  • Suggestion:
    • Implement a ‘jump-to’ week selector where it displays the week information; allowing the user to easily jump forward or backwards in time
    • Always have ‘current week’ at the top of list to highlight the current week
  • Observation: Initial version did not allow for non-project codes such as holidays, training or meetings to be logged
  • Suggestion:
    • Allow time to be logged to ‘non-project’ codes through the same interface
    • Allow team leaders to see these days on the team leader view. This allows the project leader to see upcoming days where we might not be utilized. It’s no fun for the client sifting emails and syncing calendars to see why ‘Dave’ hasn’t shown up today!

Reaping the Hard Miles

A few seasons into Forensic Files (my wife at this point now knows how to dispose of a body in 50 different ways, just saying) and we start to have something testable!

As the app is cloud based I fired out a link to a few trusted amigo’s and it seemed we were pretty close to the mark!

With the intended users now having something tangible in their hands, the next goal was to give the client the keys to the kingdom – an external (or internal) team leader view.

A non Sopra Steria user can be set up within the system to retrieve all entries which are assigned to their project, including holidays, sickness etc.

Given that a lot of our teams are also internal, a Sopra Steria employee can also have a team control panel if they are assigned a team leader role.

The Verdict

After picking a handful of users to test the app, we took a period of 1 week to collect initial feedback and log any issues.

Each user was asked to carry out specific tasks and report back, for example:

  • Successful and unsuccessful clock-in/clock-out experiences
  • Test on different devices and networks (firewall etc)
  • Log upcoming holidays

The feedback from actual ‘live’ usage resulted as:

  • Request ability to add ‘half-day’ non-project events
  • Improve performance for older Android phones (now complete)
  • Return to same week that a logging was added to (now complete)

The client is very happy with the outcome so far and has adopted this very early MVP into the projects daily routine!

There is still A LOT to add to Hourglass but given its been about 40 hours of development from a single developer and some fantastic sound advice and guidance from the UK Design Team – I reckon it’s not half bad!

If you would like to ask any questions, please get in touch :

bryce.wilson@soprasteria.com

A sneak peek inside a hothouse sprint week extravaganza

Most public and private sector leaders are acutely aware that they are supposed to be living and breathing digital: working smarter, serving people better, collaborating more intuitively. So why do front line realities so often make achieving a state of digital nirvana feel like just that: an achievable dream? The world is much messier and more complex for most organisations than they dare to admit, even internally. Achieving meaningfully digital transformation, with my staff/ customers/ deadlines/ management structure/ budgets? It’s just not realistic.

That’s where the Innovation Practice at Sopra Steria steps in.

I count myself lucky to be one of our global network of DigiLab Managers. My job is not just to help our clients re-imagine the future; anyone can do that. It’s to define and take practical steps to realising that new reality in meaningful ways, through the innovative use of integrated digital technologies, no matter what obstacles seem to bar the path ahead.

This is not innovation for the sake of it. Instead, our obsession is with delivering deep business performance, employee and customer experience transformation that really does make that living and breathing digital difference. Innovation for the sake of transformation taking clients from the land of make-believe to the tried and tested, in the here and now.

The beautiful bit? The only essentials for this process are qualities that we all have to hand: the ability to ask awkward questions, self-scrutinise and allow ourselves to be inquisitive and hopeful, fearlessly asking “What If?”.

Welcome to five days of relentless focus, scrutiny and radical thinking

The practical approach we adopt to achieving all this takes the form of an Innovation Sprint: a Google-inspired methodology which lets us cover serious amounts of ground in a short space of time. The Sopra Steria version of this Sprint is typically conducted over 5 days at one of our network of DigiLabs. These modular and open creative spaces are designed for free thinking, with walls you can write on, furniture on wheels and a rich and shifting roll-call of experts coming together to share their challenges, insights and aspirations. We also try to have a resident artist at hand, because once you can visualise something, solving it becomes that bit easier.

The only rule we allow? That anything legal and ethical is fair game as an idea.

Taking a crowbar and opening the box on aspiration

Innovation Sprints are the best way I know to shake up complex challenges, rid ourselves of preconceptions and reform for success. I want to take you through the structure of one of the recent Sprints we conducted to give you a peak at how they work, using the example of a Central Government client we have been working with. Due to the sensitive nature of the topics we discussed, names and details obviously need to stay anonymous.

In this Sprint we used a bulging kitbag of tools to drive out insight, create deliberate tensions, prioritise actions and, as one contributor neatly put it, ‘push beyond the obvious’. That kitbag included Journey Maps, Personas, Value Maps, Business Model Canvases and non-stop sketching alongside taking stacks of photos and videos of our work to keep us on track and help us capture new thinking.

Before we started, we outlined a framework for the five days in the conjunction with two senior service delivery and digital transformation leads from the Central Government Department in question. This allowed us to distil three broad but well-defined focus areas around their most urgent crunch points and pains. The three we settled on were ‘Channel shifting services’, ‘Tackling digital exclusion’  and ‘Upskilling teams with digital knowhow and tools’.

Monday: Mapping the problem

We kicked off by defining the problems and their context. Using a ‘Lightning Talks’ approach, we let our specialists and stakeholders rapidly download their challenges, getting it all out in the open and calling out any unhelpful defaults or limited thinking. In this particular Sprint, we covered legacy IT issues, employee motivation, citizen needs and vulnerabilities and how to deliver the most compassionate service, alongside PR, brand and press challenges, strategic aims and aspirations and major roadblocks. That was just Day One! By getting the tangle of challenges out there, we were able to start really seeing the size and shape of the problem.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Diving into the molten core

This is where things always get fluid, heated and transformation. We looked in turn at the  three core topics that we wanted to address, following a set calendar each day. We would ‘decode’ in the morning, looking at challenges in more detail again using ‘Lightning Talks’ from key stakeholders to orientate us. Our experts shared their pains in a frank and open way.  We then drilled each of our key topics, ideating and value mapping, identifying  opportunities to harness innovation and adopt a more user-centric approach to technology.

At the heart of this activity we created key citizen and employee personas using a mixture of data-driven analysis and educated insight. An exercise called “How might we…?” helped us to free-think around scenarios, with key stakeholders deciding what challenges they wanted to prioritise for exploration. We were then directed by these to map key user journeys for our selected personas, quickly identifying roadblocks, testing or own assumptions, refining parameters and sparking ideas for smarter service design.

On each day we created Day +1 breakaway groups that were able to remain focused on the ideas generated the day before, ensuring that every topic had a chance to rest and enjoy a renewed focus.

Friday: Solidifying and reshaping for the future

On our final day, we pulled it all together and started to make the ideas real. We invited key stakeholders back into the room and revealed the most powerful insights and synergies that we had unearthed. We also explored how we could use the latest digital thinking to start solving their most pressing challenges now and evolve the service to where it would need to be in 3-5 years’ time. Our expert consultants and leads in automation and AI had already started to design prototypes and we honestly validated their potential as a group. Some ideas flew, new ones were generated, some were revealed to be unworkable and some were banked, to be pursued at a later date. We then discussed as a team how to achieve the transformations needed at scale (the department is predicting a rapid 4-fold growth in service use) while delivering vital quick wins that would make a palpable difference, at speed. This would help us to secure the very senior buy in our clients needed for the deeper digital transformations required.  To wrap up, we explored how we could blueprint the tech needed, work together to build tight business cases, design more fully fledged prototypes, strike up new partnerships and financial models and do it all with incredible agility.

Some photos from the week

Fast forward into the new

My personal motto is: How difficult could that be? When you’re dealing with huge enterprises and Central Government departments devoted to looking after the needs of some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our society, the answer is sometimes: Very! But in my experience, there is nothing like this Sprint process for helping organisations of all stripes and sizes to move beyond unhelpful default thinking and get contributions from the people who really know the challenges inside out. With this client, we were able to map their challenges and talk with real insight and empathy about solutions, in ways they had never experienced before. We were also able to think about how we could leverage Sopra Steria’s own knowledge and embedded relationships with other government departments to create valuable strategic synergies and economies of scale.

A Sprint is never just about brainstorming around past challenges. It’s about fast-forwarding into a better, more digital, seamless and achievable future, marrying micro-steps with macro-thinking to get there. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience for all involved and one that delivers deep strategic insight and advantage, at extreme speed. And which organisation doesn’t need that?

Let’s innovate! If you’d like to book your own hothouse sprint week extravaganza or just want to know more about the process, please get in touch

A more caring conference: ITSMF 2018

The key themes at this year’s ITSMF conference were about ensuring the ongoing relevance of IT Service Management (ITSM) and the importance of the people that work in the profession  These themes were constant throughout the various sessions be they digital transformation of the year or the debate on the future ethics of AI.

The keynote opening speech was delivered by the Mental Health charity “Sane”, which was received like no other I have witnessed before at an ITSMF conference.   It really is OK to talk about mental health and loudly applaud a speaker who opens up on issues which some may see as a taboo.

Of the 46 sessions that ran this year, 29 of the sessions were people focussed.  Personal journeys, the support and benefits of being in the profession.  It really was People first at ITSMF 2018 and not the usual People, Process and Technology Mantra.  Whether it was process automation or chatbots, the focus was on the people using these technologies or enabling them.  Some of my personal highlights from the conference are below:-

The Great Relevance Debate

This was the headline panel session with industry experts including our very own Dave Green.  The debate centred on the relevance of ITSM in the digital age.  The conclusion was that there would always need to be an approach for managing IT Services.  The principles of ITIL, COBIT, Lean, IT4IT etc. will therefore remain relevant.  VeriSM, (a service management approach for the digital age) and the forthcoming ITIL4 demonstrate the evolution of best ITSM practice thinking and alignment to the digital age.  In the future, key ITSM activities will be automated, accountability will be pushed to the coalface and metrics will be based on the customer experience.  There will though still be a need for operational frameworks and ITSM professionals measuring and improving service.   It was also noted by the panel many organisations are tied long term to Bi-Modal operations.   Legacy systems may best be managed with the disciplines of what we can call legacy ITSM.  In short, ITSM is still relevant but not in the same way as it was 10 years ago.

Experience Level Agreements (XLA) – Kicking the KPI habit

This session was all about creating measures of IT performance that are relevant to the End User of the Services.  The customer experience will become the critical success factor in the truly digital world.  It is driving a power-shift from the business to the customer, so to drive higher user demand businesses need to understand customers and their expectations. It’s important, therefore a means of effectively measuring the customer experience needs to be in place. If XLAs are not in place, customers may go elsewhere even with all the IT Metrics green. IT Metrics should be kept for IT and relevant XLA metrics developed for the end customer.  An XLA is created through starting with a targeted end result and re-engineering backwards.  A key principle was that IT shouldn’t just be looking to align to business, it should be aiming to ENABLE business. More information can be found here https://xla.rocks/

The New Management of Service – Joining up the Enterprise

This session talked of the New Management of Service, joining up the Enterprise and the concept of Enterprise Service Management rather than just the ITSM in isolation.  The speaker talked of 2 key concepts.  The first being the benefits of applying best practice ITSM techniques to the wider enterprise.  The HR department could use the technologies and processes of the IT Request Management was an example cited. The second concept was of everything as a Service and the mapping of customer journeys end to end across all organisational pillars; IT, finance, sales, marketing, procurement, customer support, facilities management, HR.  Break down the silos and manage enterprise services end to end from the customer’s perspective to reduce costs, eliminate waste and increase organisational efficiency. Other speakers at the conference championed the concept of Enterprise Service Management.

Going digital isn’t Transformation, its evolution

The speaker stated that 22% of companies think they completed their digital transformation, which indicates they do not understand the nature of being a digital business.  There were several sessions on digital transformation at the conference but this session had some good pragmatic content.  The speaker stated that business users often have better IT at home than at work as home IT doesn’t get business priority.  Going digital by just changing the front-end is not transformation, it’s like a new coat of paint on a building, only the 1st step in refurbishment that needs to move on to other areas like flooring, wiring etc.  I especially like the term GADU to describe the expectations of the digital consumer.  It must search like Google, order like Amazon, be packaged/bundled like Dell and track like UPS for each step of the activity (GADU).  Anything less than GADU capability is viewed less favourably by the customer.  I also liked the speakers view that there is no such thing as the cloud just someone else’s computer J.  The speaker also talked of the importance of properly marketing digital transformations in the same way an organisation would market a new product.  This applies to both internal and external digital transformations.

The Ethics of AI

There has been a lot of talk about AI and the ethics around it as we approach “the 4th industrial revolution”. The speaker had some interesting ideas on empathy engines that could take Siri and Alexa to the next levels.  The speaker talked of the emergence of “Robophyschologists” as persons that would bridge the gap between human and machine learning and interaction.  They would create algorithms that would enable machines to learn in the same way a human babies do.  This all felt a little far off for me but the speaker cited things that are happening now around the ethics of AI.  Laws already enshrined in Germany ensure AI favours human life over anything when making emergency decisions for example.  A very thought provoking session.

Overall I felt the ITSMF 2018 conference to be forward looking and compassionate but still with a nod to the past.  I met the man who first coined the terminology “Incident” and “Problem” whose lanyard displayed the words Malcolm Fry “ITSM Legend”.

Sopra Steria to host 2 internal hackathons in Edinburgh and Glasgow!

Sopra Steria are hosting 2 internal hackathons this week across our Edinburgh and Glasgow offices where participants will be making use of DevOps tooling to deploy and manage applications on InnerShift. InnerShift is Sopra Steria’s internal container platform based on Red Hat OpenShift and will be used to facilitate the deployment and management of containers, standalone pieces of software that include everything needed to be able to run an application – from code and runtime to system tools, libraries and settings.

Attendees will work in teams of 3-4 people and will have 3 hours to work through a list of pre-defined objectives such as deployment through source to image and the creation of CI/CD pipelines. The teams will be required to make changes to their application/InnerShift to make use of some of the rich feature sets available within the platform. The teams will be encouraged to work together and experienced Sopra Steria architects will be in attendance to support and help with any issues that may arise.

The main aim of these events is to help our employees upskill in the area of DevOps/OpenShift and facilitate knowledge transfer from more experienced employees to members of staff who may be new to the company or who may not have worked with OpenShift before. The events are open to all colleagues and our RSVPs so far range from graduates and developers to business analysts and UX consultants.

Sopra Steria are always working to roll out innovation across the organisation and we are sure that the output of these events will help to establish innovative uses of technology that we can share with both coworkers and clients alike. A blog will be published on the Sopra Steria website post-event that will discuss the content of the evenings – watch this space!

Quantum Computers: A Beginner’s Guide

What they are, what they do, and what they mean for you

What if you could make a computer powerful enough to process all the information in the universe?

This might seem like something torn straight from fiction, and up until recently, it was. However with the arrival of quantum computing, we are about to make it reality. Recent breakthroughs by Intel and Google have catapulted the technology into the news. We now have lab prototypes, Silicon Valley start-ups and a multi-billion dollar research industry. Hype is on the rise, and we are seemingly on the cusp of a quantum revolution so powerful that it will completely transform our world.

On the back of this sensationalism trails confusion. What exactly are these machines and how do they work? And, most importantly, how will they change the world in which we live?

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At the most basic level, the difference between a standard computer and a quantum computer boils down to one thing: information storage. Information on standard computers is represented as bits– values of either 0 or 1, and these provide operational instructions for the computer.

This differs on quantum computers, as they store information on a physical level so microscopic that the normal laws of nature no longer apply. At this minuscule level, the laws of quantum mechanics take over and particles begin to behave in bizarre and unpredictable ways. As a result, these devices have an entirely different system of storing information: qubits, or rather, quantum bits.

Unlike the standard computer’s bit, which can have the value of either 0 or 1, a qubit can have the value of 0, 1 or both 0 and 1 at the same time. It can do this because of one of the fundamental (and most baffling) principles of quantum mechanics- quantum superposition, which is the idea that one particle can exist in multiple states at the same time. Put another way: imagine flipping a coin. In the world as we know it (and therefore the world of standard computing), you can only have one of two results: heads or tails. In the quantum world, the result can be heads and tails.

What does all of this this mean in practice? In short, the answer is speed. Because qubits can exist in multiple states at the same time, they are capable of running multiple calculations simultaneously. For example, a 1 qubit computer can conduct 2 calculations at the same time, a 2 qubit computer can conduct 4, and a 3 qubit computer can conduct 8- increasing exponentially. Operating under these rules, quantum computers bypass the “one-at-a-time” sequence of calculation that a classical computer is bound by. In the process, they become the ultimate multi-taskers.

To give you a taste of what that kind speed might look like in real terms, we can look back to 2015, when Google and Nasa partnered up to test an early prototype of a quantum computer called D-Wave 2X. Taking on a complex optimisation problem, D-Wave was able to work at a rate roughly 100 million times faster than a single core classical computer and produced a solution in seconds. Given the same problem, a standard laptop would have taken 10,000 years.

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Given their potential for speed, it is easy to imagine a staggering range of possibilities and use cases for these machines. The current reality is slightly less glamorous. It is inaccurate to think of quantum computers as simply being “better” versions of classical computers. They won’t simply speed up any task run through them (although they may do that in some instances). They are, in fact, only suited to solving highly specific problems in certain contexts- but there’s still a lot to be excited about.

One possibility that has attracted a lot of fanfare lies in the field of medicine. Last year, IBM made headlines when they used their quantum computer to successfully simulate the molecular structure of beryllium hydride, the most complex molecule ever simulated on a quantum machine. This is a field of research which classical computers usually have extreme difficulty with, and even supercomputers struggle to cope with the vast range of atomic (and sometimes quantum) complexities presented by complex molecular structures. Quantum computers, on the other hand, are able to read and predict the behaviour of such molecules with ease, even at a minuscule level. This ability is significant not just in an academic context; it is precisely this process of simulating molecules that is currently used to produce new drugs and treatments for disease. Harnessing the power of quantum computing for this kind of research could lead to a revolution in the development of new medicines.

But while quantum computers might set in motion a new wave of scientific innovation, they may also give rise to significant challenges. One such potentially hazardous use case is the quantum computer’s ability to factorise extremely large numbers. While this might seem relatively harmless at first sight, it is already stirring up anxieties in banks and governments around the world. Modern day cryptography, which ensures the security of the majority of data worldwide, relies on complex mathematical problems- tied to factorisation- that classical computers have insufficient power to solve. Such problems, however, are no match for quantum computers, and the arrival of these machines could render modern methods of cryptography meaningless, leaving everything from our passwords and bank details to even state secrets extremely vulnerable, able to be hacked, stolen or misused in the blink of an eye.

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Despite the rapid progress that has been made over the last few years, an extensive list of obstacles still remain, with hardware right at the top. Quantum computers are extremely delicate machines, and a highly specialised environment is required to produce the quantum state that gives qubits their special properties. For example, they must be cooled to near absolute zero (roughly the temperature of outer space) and are extremely sensitive to any kind of interference from electricity or temperature. As a result, today’s machines are highly unstable, and often only maintain their quantum states for just a few milliseconds before collapsing back into normality- hardly practical for regular use.

Alongside these hardware challenges marches an additional problem: a software deficit. Like a classical computer, quantum computers need software to function. However, this software has proved extremely challenging to create. We currently have very few effective algorithms for quantum computers, and without the right algorithms, they are essentially useless- like having a Mac without a power button or keyboard. There are some strides being made in this area (QuSoft, for example) but we would need to see vast advances in this field before widespread adoption becomes plausible. In other words, don’t expect to start “quoogling” any time soon.

So despite all the hype that has recently surrounded quantum computers, the reality is that now (and for the foreseeable future) they are nothing more than expensive corporate toys: glossy, futuristic and fascinating, but with limited practical applications and a hefty price tag attached. Is the quantum revolution just around the corner? Probably not. Does that mean you should forget about them? Absolutely not.