Client interview - Zurich

Daniel Granger



To manage a global property portfolio, a holistic programme approach is needed

Transitioning from a project approach to global portfolio management not only drives value but also materially enhances a company’s brand. The new breed of programme management office (PMO) serves as a crucial knowledge hub and overseer of the entire project supply chain.

Changing approaches to global property assets

The way corporations view their global property assets has changed irreversibly in recent years, says Paul. “At Zurich, we no longer look at our property portfolio ‘simply as property’ but as something that is integral to our identity. The management of a global property portfolio has evolved from a matter of plain logistics to a key conduit of our entire corporate strategy.”

If this sounds like a simple evolution, it was anything but. For too long, Paul says, companies’ global property portfolios have been overshadowed by other areas of the business perceived to contain more value. But with globalisation, the digitally connected workplace and today’s empowered staff, this is no longer the case.

“Property assets are no longer seen as a necessary evil, but as an ongoing opportunity to give our staff a richer, dynamic environment in which to work and our clients the best possible experience of the Zurich brand.”

From projects to programme

So much for the theory, but what about the practice? How does Zurich, an insurer with around 60,000 employees operating in over 170 countries, ensure its emerging property philosophy is implemented on the ground, both efficiently and consistently? After all, the key challenge facing global property asset management, historically, has been the siloed, non-integrated and project-by-project approach of regional Corporate Real Estate Services (CRES) teams.

The answer has been to switch from a disconnected project-led approach to managing its portfolio like a holistic programme.

PMO in practice

So how might a PMO operate in practice? What are its responsibilities and goals? While the PMO ultimately exists to ensure Zurich’s ethos is crystallised consistently at a global, cross-portfolio level, and to drive efficiencies wherever possible, it is by no means a control and command centre. Rather, it serves as a two-way knowledge hub, or learning environment.

Paul explains: “We look at the PMO as a fundamentally collaborative environment where the bottom-up intelligence of local markets meets with the top-down knowledge and brand insights of senior management in an always-on, always-learning process.”

However enlightened and forward-thinking the PMO may be on one level, it also plays a much more prosaic role in the management of a company’s global property assets. “For a company that has tens of thousands of employees, even the simplest problems, such as a broken lift in one building, can quickly result in the loss of tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds of value,” says Paul. “The PMO therefore acts as a dashboard where we can react to, and minimise, disruption in whatever form, and ensure our entire property portfolio is running as efficiently as it can.”

The PMO is also Zurich’s trusted link to its global supply chain, a central function with the ability to deliver locally via a preferred network of suppliers that understand and have fully bought into the Zurich view.

Future goals for PMO

So is Paul happy with where Zurich is at from a programme management perspective? Yes and no is the answer. “I have no doubt that programme management will enable us to thrive in a globalised, fast-moving world. But at the same time, we never want to stop learning and pushing the boundaries of what we can do, and are always investing in ideas.”