The Rise of the Chief Quantum Officer and The Prospect of Quantum at The Governance Level — an Interview with Shai Phillips, President of Psirch
In The Quantum Insider’s second interview with Shai Phillips, President of Psirch, we discuss the rise of the “Chief Quantum Officer” and the prospect of quantum at the governance level.
Although the roles of Chief Science Officer (CSO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) have been common enough for quite some time, a position of which we have only seen glimpses thus far, may very well be on the ascendance — that of the Chief Quantum Officer, or CQO.
“As of now, it seems this function has been largely restricted to new companies developing quantum technologies”, Phillips began, referring to the emergence of the CQO. “However, that’s not to say larger, more mature companies committed to the early adoption of quantum, such as big pharma, major banks, and so forth, won’t begin to create similarly high-ranking titles, possibly even at the C-suite level, for Quantum leads, as the technology becomes ever more integral to competitive success. If we take a notable example of this — the appointment of William Zeng to Head of Quantum Research at Goldman Sachs — we see it has already begun. Perhaps not quite at C-suite level just yet, but then again, it is very early days.”
Doing a little digging, TQI found several people with that title, including Yuping Huang, CQO of Quantum Computing Inc, Si-Hui Tan of Horizon Quantum Computing, Stephanie Simmons of Photonic Inc, and Amir Vahid of Eonum.
“The appointment of Huang to CQO at QCI following the acquisition of QPhoton seemed to make particular sense”, remarked Phillips, “not only because QCI, with that acquisition, had evolved from a software company to full-stack computing, but also because the make-up of the team appeared to very much benefit from it. It wasn’t a move for the sake of optics, but rather a sensible, considered, and functionally necessary one.”
At this point, Phillips moved the focus back to corporates, and specifically to Aerospace and Defense companies, noting that “while these entities are some of the most advanced in their quantum journeys, they tend to use umbrella terms that embed their quantum departments and thereby shroud them in broader structures, or otherwise segment their quantum leads across multiple business units.” Armed with examples, Phillips went on to point out that “Northrop Grumman, for instance, calls its quantum department the “Disruptive Concepts and Technologies (DC&T) organization”, and had appointed Dr. Ben Burnett as Lead Quantum Networking Architect before he recently departed for a job with Apple. At the same time, there seem to be others at Northrop working on quantum outside of this group too, perhaps because work is often largely project-based in A&D.” The President of Psirch then concluded that: “While it’s hard to foresee a CQO rank materializing anytime soon at a major defense contractor, the senior roles are nonetheless already visible there. Another good example is Chris Dorny — Head of Quantum Technology at L3Harris. While the company might call this group “Advanced Technology”, Chris is exactly the type of Quantum Lead who may one day find himself wearing a CQO title.”
The Bottom-Up Approach
Another reason for the slow arrival of the CQO title in broader industry outside of companies developing Quantum, according to Phillips.. “is what appears to be by and large a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down build-out. For banks, biotech companies, consulting firms, defense contractors, and so on, there seem to be plenty of entry-level and junior roles to fill, even some mid-level positions, but not many as yet in the senior ranks to tie it all together,” observed Psirch’s President. “Instead, quantum engineers and similar roles often ladder up through non-quantum channels, and report to conventional line managers. This is a situation that cannot last forever, as it may eventually impede collaboration across business lines, and cause crucial impediments to outcomes. It won’t be much longer until Quantum experts will be unavoidable at the top. As faith grows in the quantum endeavor, we will start to see that.”
Quantum on the Corporate Board
From CQO, Phillips moved onto the subject of quantum at the governance level. We discussed whether quantum experts would be needed at the executive level, and I ventured to ask him how important it would be in mitigating risk of disruption, security breaches, etc.
“As time goes by and quantum matures, the outsized impact it will be poised to have on industry at large will make it both a necessary and relevant topic at board meetings. At the same time, however, boards of established corporates tend to be rather traditional, and as such, we won’t likely see the advent of a Quantum committee to match the likes of the audit and nom/gov committees we see today. Instead, we’re more likely to find boards seeking specific Quantum expertise in the skillets of at least one or two of their board members, such that a SME is present at the table to advise with authority. This same approach was taken with other issues such as cybersecurity, social media, and digital infrastructure in general.”
“As for the question of risk mitigation, we’re likely to see a plethora of situations play out. For boards who shirk the quantum question, and there will be some, results may be catastrophic, not just from a security standpoint, but competitively from an existential standpoint. Quantum is going to make certain technologies and practices in place today obsolete. This is exactly the kind of question corporate boards have a duty to address in timely fashion, as it directly relates to the future prosperity of a company, and to navigating complex, inevitable change.”
Phillips’ spotlight on cybersecurity is notable:
“The first alarm bells will ring on the cybersecurity aspect, because long before quantum computers reach a sophisticated level of fault tolerance, long before they are capable of achieving advanced tasks for commercial advantage, the prescience of their arrival will necessitate security system readiness. After all, there’s no point in setting up quantum-safe security *after* quantum computers are capable of factoring large numbers, taking down internet security protocols, breaking credit card RSA encryptions, and easily defeating elliptical curve cryptography of cryptocurrencies — by then it’s already too late. Boards need a plan in place and well underway far in advance of such an eventuality. In other words, they need to start think about this aspect today.”
I then asked Phillips whether “procedural governance” might also be a factor. In other words, will quantum affect the way a company must behave under the law in view of the advent of quantum?
“That’s a great question,” remarked Phillips, “because yes, regulation is likely to grow in volume as quantum reaches ever deeper into industry, and as national defense implications draw ever closer. Of course, compliance departments will be all over it, as they well should be, and yet at a great enough magnitude, corporate boards will also be paying attention, and have a role to play in compliance oversight. A&D as well as quantum computing and broader technology companies are already familiar with certain instruments that cannot be sold or licensed to some/all foreign entities, and restricted access to quantum products as they progress will necessarily be a subject of continued debate, vigilance, and renewed policy from central governments. It’s hard to imagine a corporate board of directors of a company affected by such regulation that chooses not to take an interest in such a crucial dimension. As a result, this is just one more reason why some board seats will require quantum expertise.”
For more information about Psirch, visit: www.psirch.com