6/19/2014 | Erik Sherman

Any company can improve its efficiency, which typically means getting smarter about business processes. But in the middle market, process improvement is particularly difficult. Operations are larger and more complicated than a start-up's, but a midsized business also doesn't have the resources of a large company to devote people to reviewing and improving the structure and execution of processes through full business-process re-engineering.

Technology can help. The right tools let executives better observe and control processes, eliminate waste, and improve efficiency.

Model What You Do Now

Before you can improve something, you need to understand how it works. A middle market company might consider investing in and using business process management software, also known as BPM. These applications help a company document and model its current processes, often through the work of the people actually involved in performing the tasks in question. The systems can often abstract the processes and rules behind them before putting it into the hands of the users that must run the business.

Benchmark Yourself

When you know what you do, measure how well it currently works, then benchmark the results against best practices for the industry. Some industry consultancies or trade organizations have tools to help evaluate and compare. The National Center for the Middle Market has two online benchmarking tools: one for company performance and another to measure supply-chain resiliency. The more you know about how your strongest and closest industry rivals operate, the better you understand to what degree you need to improve to at least be competitive with them.

Improve Process Technology

After you get a view of where you are with respect to competitors and you see the changes you need to make, help enforce them with better process technology. For example, implementation of advanced manufacturing techniques and technology is an excellent start for many middle market companies. As the study "Advanced Manufacturing Techniques Among U.S. Middle Market Manufacturers" shows, the average user of advanced manufacturing techniques saw a 20 percent increase in profitability over the last five years.

Technology has become well established in such other operational areas as supply-chain management and order-process management, but don't forget to check the unusual suspects. Marketing departments can leverage software to better analyze and manage campaigns or improve pricing. Even something as apparently simple as moving to electronic documents from paper can speed up processes and eliminate the need to have physical files. Some companies have found that giving up filing cabinets has paid off the technology expenses in short order, simply by reducing the need for rented real estate.

Improve Innovation

One of the best ways, though, to constantly improve effectiveness is to encourage and enable innovation. Good employees constantly find new ways to work smarter, whether that means uncovering hidden capabilities in the tools they already have or finding new ones, such as the newest smartphone apps. Customers can often point you in the right direction, as can business partners. There is even technology to help the innovation process itself. Let your employees, customers, and partners make you smarter and fuel your process improvement.

What employees, or group of employees, should take the lead in driving process improvement? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Erik Sherman is an NCMM contributor and author whose work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the Financial Times, Chief Executive, Inc., and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch. Sherman has extensive experience in corporate communications consulting and is the author or co-author of 10 books. Follow him on Twitter and circle him on Google+.