IBM PartnerWorld starts up live today in St. Louis, and there's a lot of Lotus lovin' on tap for this event.  Here are some things to watch for out of the gate...I'll add links and updates later today.

First, aside from a keynote from Sam Palmisano, ZZ Top will be there.  What more could you ask for?

From a Lotus perspective, Ken Bisconti, Marjorie Tenzer, and Ron Sebastian will present a Lotus update on Tuesday at 2 PM (Americas Center: Plaza Room 275).  See the full agenda for details.

What kind of news will they have?

First, they will be announcing two new Lotus offerings, specifically targeted at SMB  -- the Lotus Complete Messaging Express Starter Pack, and the Lotus Complete Collaboration Express Starter Pack.  These 10-packs are attractively priced with lots of value at a discounted price.  They combine the existing Messaging Express/Collaboration Express with a Lotus Sametime license. They will be announced as part of an overall expansion of IBM's Express Advantage.  Availability -- immediate (I will link the channel announcement tomorrow).  

Second, they will announce Lotus Connections for Partners.  This new service will provide the full suite of Connections capabilities to the IBM partner community.  IBM PartnerWorld members can request access at www.ibm.com/lotus/connections/partners.  I'm looking forward to participating in this community and connecting with a broad array of our partners worldwide.

Connectria's IDoNotes -- Chris Miller -- will be the blogman to watch this week, as he podcasts with Lotus's Tim Kounadis and covers the conference first-hand.  Somehow I suspect Chris will find even more news as the conference unfolds.

Update: InfoWorld has the story, "IBM expands its Express Advantage to target SMBs":

IBM relies heavily on its partners in the midmarket space, which it defines as companies with 100 to 1,000 employees. ...

"When it [IBM] focuses investment in a market space, it wins that particular sector," Stone said. Given IBM's size, it takes time for that to happen, but he believes the vendor is making a lot of the right moves in the SMB market at a faster speed than in the past.

Working with partners, IBM has made a lot of progress in the SMB market but still only has single-digit market share, according to Marc Lautenbach, general manager, Americas for IBM. "We've just scratched the surface," he said.

The long-held perception among SMBs that IBM's hard to do business with is changing. "It's nothing like it was 10 years ago," Stone said.

"It was never a question could IBM do the job, it was really about whether it was too expensive and difficult to implement," Ray Boggs, vice president of SMB research at analyst company IDC.

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