It may not be ranked on the New York Times best seller list, but "The Electronic Commerce Report," authored by Bill Burnham and recently published by Piper Jaffray, is a crucial read for all bankers searching for a smart, to-the-point overview of how the virtual world is shaping up-and what electronic commerce (EC) means to their respective financial institutions' business strategies going forward.

Few reports in the past five years have impressed me with the level of detail that Burnham's undertaking has; fewer still are so on the money that they're worth reading cover to cover. The Piper Jaffray report is both, and the world of EC and its current and potential players is mapped out so thoroughly that you'll be scanning the pages to see if your own institution's blueprint for EC success is represented (At first, you'll be amazed at the insider's look that Burnham brings to the report, but will quickly realize it is one of the work's many charms.).

Among the 260-page report's many other attractions: a complete outline of the players (both present and emerging), infrastructural challenges and where banks' greatest business propositions for EC lie. Burnham has managed to capture with unusual clarity-relying on wit, sarcasm and daring to keep things moving-the heart of the EC challenge for banks and other financial institutions. The report also relies on glossaries, supplemental/anecdotal case studies, and supporting charts and graphics to shed greater light on the argument made in the body of the text.

Who is Microsoft chairman William Gates really after? Not banks, Burnham argues matter of factly, but Lou Gerstner-or, rather, what Gerstner's IBM Corp. has in the form of a huge presence in banks' mainframe computing world. "IBM is well aware of Microsoft's intentions and has done a masterful job convincing banks that Microsoft is trying to take their customers, when Microsoft is, in all likelihood, more interested in taking IBM's customers," the report states.

Truer words could not be spoken. Even so, no one's counting Microsoft out just yet. And Burnham fastidiously reviews the growing number of situations in which Microsoft and other financial software players are drastically changing the EC course, and how banks can gainfully participate in this to their benefit and that of their customers.

While the whole book is really worth reading, the most important chapters to bank executives are four, five, and seven (Electronic Payments and the Death of the Switch, Financial Software and the Rise of the Integrator, and Commerce Content: Brands Battle Intelligent Agents, respectively). You'll find yourself re-reading certain sections with keen interest-even awe-in the promise and potential of electronic commerce, and what certain players are doing now to gather their respective troops.

"The Electronic Commerce Report" is due to be published by McGraw-Hill in early 1998. Don't wait until then to get your hands on a copy. With fall already here, this gem will surely make for great fireside reading.

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