@Charred - I think that process improvement is a buzz word that sends shivers down the spines of other employees. People think that they are going to get laid off. It’s a fair concern, I think; the reality is that you can in fact have too many people spread thin over too few processes.
However, I think that the best way to improve processes in difficult economic times is through automation, as you pointed out. If you can build databases or reports (or have someone from IT do it) then you may be able to reduce a lot of the manual tasks and reduce clutter.
You can do this without laying off your employees. You would just have to train them on how to use the new systems.