You may already know that smart factories are helping big businesses streamline production, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. These factories are delivering insights that are hugely useful to every aspect of a business, leading to not only more efficiency, but an overall better product.

As we’re all taught from preschool, the key to succeeding in any group project is teamwork, that good communication will always improve the quality and efficiency of your work.

But what happens when that project gets much, much bigger, or when the work starts to depend on complex machinery? At a certain point, does the scale of your group make teamwork simply impractical?

This is essentially the problem industrial manufacturers face in the 21st century. New technology has made it possible to produce incredibly detailed and complicated products with very little human intervention, all at rates that would have made Henry Ford’s head spin.

But to edge ahead of the competition, the next step in the process is to go beyond streamlining production and look to streamline the management of that production.

Combining Machine Work with Teamwork

The Internet of Things essentially lets devices communicate with one another, much like the individual workers along an assembly line might. But one huge network of all the networks involved in one factory could create efficiencies that no group of workers or managers could possibly perceive.

Such a system could effectively map out each step of the supply chain to bring idle time and wasted resources to an absolute minimum, or even notice a product defect and automatically adjust before it’s repeated.

IBM is taking the idea even further by extending it to the consumer-facing side of operations. Thanks to the company’s recently purchased “Now Factory,” IBM can collect incredibly precise information on their customers’ experience of every single product they make.

The analytics software housed in this factory looks at a wide range of factors — including the device, the app, and even the cell tower being used — to make corrections that both address an individual customer’s problem and ensure that the error isn’t repeated.

Is Change Really Coming?

While IBM might be making big investments in advancements like these ($3 billion over the next four years), plenty of other companies have been slow to take similar steps. Replacing one’s current manufacturing infrastructure is not a cheap process, to be sure, but older, outdated models are expensive to use and will ultimately cost more in the long run.

Another hurdle these companies face to adopting smart factories is the necessary and impending change in how these factories are staffed. Since computers would handle much of the actual production, human jobs will most likely take on a larger scope, focused on coordinating operations across an entire factory rather than on a specialized knowledge of any one process or machine.

But of course, these are challenges that you don’t have to tackle all at once. Smaller and mid-sized companies should develop long-term plans for implementing this technology piece by piece, minimizing growing pains within their HR departments and making costs more manageable.

Whether it happens next year or in the next ten years, though, big business will soon have yet another advantage over the little guy — and every underdog needs to rise to the challenge.