In a world where remote work has become the new norm, businesses are seeking innovative ways to inspire and connect. At The Virtulab, Executive Director David Cummins and his team of digital wizards are focused on bringing virtual solutions to the masses. Solving emerging challenges by adding meaning and fun to increase productivity and decrease carbon footprints.
As a former RAF remote drone pilot, David Cummins is ripe with experience and uniquely positioned to lead this mastermind crew as they look at ways to improve both work and play in the future.
At 18 years old, David Cummins left school and joined the RAF. By 21 he was on the front line, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and later, Libya. He would remain overseas for 13 years, with occasional visits home. While his piloting career began on one of the oldest jet planes around, the Nimrod MR2, Cummins eventually became part of the Unmanned fleet, flying Predator and Reaper drones for the RAF. His final post was as a Qualified Weapons Instructor, specialising in future weapons and utilisation.
“In the US, a QWI is known as a Top Gun qualification. It’s basically three-dimensional chess with high tech weapons to win a war,” explains Cummins.
After leaving the RAF in 2013, Cummins was headhunted by Swiss group UMS Skeldar to be their head of operations for global delivery of the Unmanned Fleet. In 2015, Cummins joined the CG Tech fold, setting up the IRIS Group with a focus on applying military technologies for civilian applications, such as enabling ground and airborne data collection for oil and gas, security, construction and agriculture.
CG Tech, an investment holding firm with interests in traditional services industries, seeks to add value to its investments through sharing strategic insights and encouraging technology-based innovations. In 2019, the IRIS group transformed into The Virtulab, working on digital solutions to transform the efficiency of companies across the entire portfolio.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, David Cummins and his team recognised that they were sitting on an in-house technology that could greatly improve the effectiveness of virtual events and work from home. Under the direction of Chief Technology Officer Wayne Strydom, a young and dynamic team created a digital solution known as Virtuworx. The avatar-based environment is completely customisable, giving clients the ability to move freely and communicate within a virtual world, much as they would in real life.
“The team we have behind Virtuworx is just incredible,” explains Cummins. “For those people who can work from home, and reduce their travel, the platform will help them get a better work life balance. The irony is that our specialised staff have had 15 months of pain and sleepless nights, as well as a poor work life balance to hopefully enable this solution for others to benefit.”
The importance of the team is a recurring theme when you speak to anyone from The Virtulab. Adamant that the success of Virtuworx is down to the ingenuity of a motley crew, willing to confront challenges and apply unconventional methods to create cutting edge solutions.
“On a Monday, we’re building a virtual reality environment. On a Wednesday, we’re developing ArchViz (Architectural Visualisation) simulations, and by Friday, we’re building a database analysis and virtual reality bunkers for the security industry,” says CTO Wayne Strydom.
For Cummins, the success of Virtuworx isn’t confined to the parameters of the pandemic. He is a strong believer that the digital technology his team is pioneering today will transform the relationship we all have with work in the future.
“We are seeing it already, discussions about London offices being changed for housing. Full-service commercial real estate companies are scrambling to reinvent themselves as office rentals are reducing,” explains Cummins.
He adds, “Companies like ours will hasten a downward shift in office rentals, but more than that, we want to help make people more productive and more resilient with analytics. By reducing the need for travel, we are reducing a company’s carbon footprint, while at the same time, improving people’s lives.”
It sounds like a lot to take on, but being able to recognise strengths and weaknesses as well as the need to surround yourself with a great team goes a long way to explaining David Cummins’ success, both in the military and his current career.
“I find it different in a tech company versus the old days, because it isn’t my area of expertise. Whereas before I could jump into the trenches and work with and help the team, now I am left to watch and support. But I make a mean cup of tea!” laughs Cummins.
Today, the 40-year-old lives in the UK with his wife and three teenage children. It’s a far cry from the trenches, but the lessons learned during his time in the RAF have definitely had an impact on Cummins’ leadership style.
“For me I try never to think over the bad, but instead the good. When you see bad, clock it, remember it and try to never do it,” says Cummins. “I’d like to think I am a calming personality that tries to lead by example. I always hope that I can foster and build a team, but I guess time will tell.”