Bazile Lanneau Jr. probably knows better than most executives that a clear understanding of not only how much U.S. banks are spending on information technology, but why, and on what, requires a little "context": namely, a recognition of the important differences between the technology initiatives of money-center banks and efforts of "the mass of smaller guys, whether you want to put the line at (total assets of) $5 billion or $10 billion."

In the mid-1990s, after several years as an executive with Natchez, MS- based Britton & Koontz National Bank and its parent, Britton & Koontz Capital Corp., Lanneau began working on the company's Internet banking strategy and its in-house preparations for doing business through a new and largely untested channel.

"In 1995," he recalls, "we were still asking whether this Internet thing was going to take hold. It wasn't long before we were no longer asking that question."

Today, Lanneau is president and chief executive officer of Sumx Inc., an e-banking solutions provider based in the Jackson, MS, metro area city of Madison, with another principal office in Dallas. Britton & Koontz Capital Corp. (NASDAQ: BKBK) owns 37% of Sumx, which is privately held.

After BK National Bank built an effective in-house Net banking system, Lanneau says in a matter-of-fact rather than sales-mode tenor, the bank found itself deep into the development work and accomplishing refinements of the software-a solution now branded SumxNet-into "something truly exceptional." Apparently, one of the world's largest financial services technology providers, Canton, OH-based Diebold, thinks SumxNet is first tier. The global ATM systems and software corporation recently began working with Sumx Inc. to extend the existing Internet capabilities of Diebold ATMs.

Today, adds Lanneau, "the Internet banking market is wide open." Its lucrative nature is owing not only to the number of banks that have yet to exploit any but the most basic Web-enabled technology, but also to "the fact that there are many banks that aren't wedded to their initial solution."

Net-related investments by banks are indeed expected to continue growing at faster rates than what Boston-based Celent Communications calls, for comparison's sake, "traditional IT." By 2005, Celent projects, Internet-related spending, at $55 billion, will nearly match traditional IT spending of an estimated $60 billion.

Because banks, like other corporations, must have email and related networking functions to run their businesses, Lanneau says, even those which have clung stubbornly to their mainframe systems in lieu of truly distributed computing-that is, a client-server environment integrated with core systems-have had "to open up that much."

"Having email, in itself, 'opens' you," he explains, "and networking and security issues become imperative."

If he were called upon to value a bank that was considered a good candidate for merger or acquisition, Lanneau says, he'd be particularly diligent in examining the state of the bank's Internet architecture, including those capabilities exploiting the Net as a channel through which to interact with corporate customers and consumers as well as those focused on the Internet as a network (and a less expensive one than some of the alternatives) through which commercial applications of all kinds are now flowing.

While it would be foolish to dismiss completely the potential impact of a slower economy on banks' IT spending, Lanneau is a member of the chorus of industry insiders who are convinced that growth will remain strong in a number of areas for the next several years.

"Because so much of the bank technology that is out there is getting mature, I think the (IT) shopping list is actually expanding," he says, convinced that the percentage of banks' total non-interest expense devoted to technology will continue to grow.

The longtime banker also echoes a number of observations one normally hears in discussions of customer relationship management, or CRM, technology: 2001 is a year in which banks will do a better job of using technology to execute strategy, rather than depending on IT to be the strategy.

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