IoT’s role in smart cities is undisputed, to the point that both concepts are usually presented as part of one another. But that is also true of Big Data, which is revolutionizing many sectors and is indispensable to take urban areas to that next step.

In that case, it makes sense for us to constantly ask what are these technologies’ roles in building smart cities. Sure, we know how they can be used, and we have actually done it already. But are we using its full potential? Have we asked ourselves about the risks that come with it? What about following successful cases, or avoiding past mistakes? Can we measure their impact?

We listened to several experts in the field, who gave their own accounts and opinions on what to do. This is what they had to say:

David Graham – Deputy Chief Operating Officer, City of San Diego

Coming from a public position, David Graham has a lot to say about government’s involvement. “The politics do matter,” he argues. “We tend to embed these things in our organizations, in our technological platforms, but you can’t forget the leadership at the top.”

For him, we are at a turning point for metropolitan areas, and we’ll have to adapt to the changes that are coming in order to survive. For Graham, San Diego is a great example of that. He stresses the importance of recognizing past mistakes caused by what he calls “bad management”, but also talks about today’s positive aspects.

Current San Diego mayor Kevin Lee Faulconer, who he works for, has laid out an innovation agenda for the city, “particularly as it related to sustainability and climate.” One of the main challenges is dealing with legacy assets: previous tools that remain installed in the city’s infrastructure but that are behind compared to modern advancements.

Aging infrastructure is one of the main four challenges he presents, the other three being the need of a rapid organization, climate change and cybersecurity. Graham exposes several examples where San Diego managed to implement meaningful changes, like electric stations powered by solar energy and the transformation of streetlamps to a useful data collection tool.

Trudy Norris-Grey – Managing Director, Microsoft CityNext, Microsoft

Trudy Norris-Grey doesn’t hold any punches. “Let me be provocative,” she says, pausing for moment. “I think IoT is bringing a new order. Not just to our cities, but to our world. And my question to you is: Are you ready for it?” She gives several examples of failing and successful cases, and embraces the uncertainty as an opportunity, not a challenge.

She takes a clear optimist stand about the matter, admitting that she was fearful and intimidated by the technology at first, though eventually realized how it was improving everyone’s lives.

She exposes one main challenge, though. “I think technology is the easy bit”, she argues. “I think the policies are what really matters.” As the public sector’s involvement is a must, trust will remain as one of the hottest topics in the future, and where the industry has to put all of its energy. “We need to build transparency and trust”, she says, adding that she considers that the client’s data must always be his or her own.

“IoT is already everywhere. You just don’t know it.” But she also makes a distinction: this is not about data, but about the “passion and ingenuity” the sector must show by grabbing that data and taking meaningful insights out of it. “Let’s all grab this opportunity. There’s a new world out there.”

Nicola Villa – Senior Vice President, Government & Development, Mastercard

Nicolla Villa starts by identifying’s Mastercard’s fierce competitor: cash, which he claims amounts to 85% of the transactions made in the world. “Cash is costly, always unsecure, and it’s also the foundation of the shadow economy.”

But how does that translate to smart cities, exactly? Villa explains that 80% of the world’s GDP comes from cities, so Mastercard sees an opportunity there to implement smart solutions relating to payment. It’s something the company has already started, as today it has around 100 partnerships with city governments around the world.

Data is not insignificant in the finance sector. The company processes 53 billion transactions a year, which means they have a lot of data about the economy and how these payment tools work. “We share this data in collaborative environments with city governments around the world,” adds Villa, suggesting the company is invested in this kind of collaborative projects.

In short, he talks about two main processes: leveraging their infrastructure with the collected analytics, and then enable digital solutions. “This means that IoT becomes for us a foundational element in the city space”. The end goal is simple: make transactions and payments more convenient and helping the people by orchestrating, not controlling.

Loïc Bar – CEO, Opinum

Focused mainly on energy and environmental issues, Opinum provides de IoT platform to leverage this data. CEO Loïc Bar addresses the fallacy of assuming smart cities have to be big urban areas with millions of citizens. “Smart doesn’t mean big,” he argues, “smart means bright, intelligent, and you don’t need to be big to be intelligent.”

He mentions a lot of cases where smart city solutions have been successful at a middle size or even small scale, like Luverne in Belgium, where they could identify which building was consuming more energy, and another case where they could improve the water distribution system and collect data of how it was being used.

José Luis Mate – CTO, Public IT Services, NEC

José Luis Mate highlights the big changes coming, explaining that by 2050, 75% of the population will live in cities. “This is a traumatic change”, he says, adding that the environment and demand of energy consumption will be big issues in the coming decades. That includes water, food and basically all resources consumed by people.

Though it may sound a bit apocalyptic, Mate assures that’s not necessarily the case. He just thinks we need to be efficient. “If we talk about ‘smart’, for me ‘smart’ means ‘efficient’.” The data is a big part of it, and being able to dynamically allocate it as well.

In short, Mate focuses a lot on the future. His vision is that cities will have to be built based on all the data that’s being currently collected, and for that we’ll need to be holistic with our approaches.