By Noel Ward, Executive Editor January 5, 2004 -- Those of you who ski or snowboard know the pleasure of being the first ones at the top of the mountain on a clear winter day. The morning air is crisp and clear and the views seem to go on forever. The snow on the trails is groomed to perfection and topped with a couple inches of fresh powder, full of possibilities and ready for you to make first tracks. With a smile, you set off, putting your own marks on the new day. Likewise, as the new year begins, each of us has an abundance of ways to make our marks. There are old customers to be savored and nurtured, new customers to learn from and develop, prospects to be won over, and competitors to surpass. There are opportunities to expand our businesses, offer new services, and add capabilities. If you don't have firm plans for the new year, there's still plenty of time to take action and begin to chart a course that will bring success by the time 2004 rolls over into 2005. But today, the first real business day of 2004, is a great time to begin. Most indicators point to a recovering economic climate, which makes many feel more confident as we go into a new year. If you've been paying attention and keeping up your sales and marketing activities over the past year, chances are you already see some potential business awaiting your attention. If not, now is a good time to turn up the heat on some of those plans you've had on the back burner and see what comes of them. Few of us have the luxury of continuing to do business as usual and hoping things turn out well. In fact, business as usual may well be a strategy that assures you will gradually fall behind as competitors find ways to move forward and seize advantages that you did not. And don't you just hate it when that happens? The technologies behind digital printing are becoming more stable and more reliable. The early adopters and pioneers (identified by the arrows in their backs) have already shown there is money to be made putting toner on paper and have been busy proving that color toner and variable data make more money. They all admit that the road they follow is not always an easy one, but I'm not finding many who want to turn back. Instead I find digital print providers who continue pushing the envelope by creating new applications, investing in technology, going after new types of customers, revamping sales strategies, and taking the long view. Invariably, they have come to practice the adage of "he who has the data wins," and look for ways building long-term relationships with customers that give them a greater share of wallet and even reduce competitive pressures. How do they do it? The single characteristic they share is that they see technology as a tool, not a "solution." The solution, more often than not, is what they devise using the hardware and software from whatever vendors they favor. But beyond that is how they approach the market, identify customer needs and develop the solutions. They share no single approach, and throughout 2004 ODJ will be showing you more about these companies with exclusive interviews and real-world examples of their work. Our growing team of writers is spread across the front lines of digital printing and we're poised to tell you the stories of the print providers that are changing their businesses and making a difference for their customers. There's an old saying, "May you live in interesting times." Some say this was meant as a curse. That may be, but we do indeed live in an age of constant change and unpredictable events that certainly make our personal and business lives more than a little bit interesting. And rarely easy. So as you move into your new year, remember it is as full of promise as you make it. Look for opportunities, learn from others and please let us know what you are doing to move your business forward. Onward!