But “difficulty” and “complexity,” as they relate to data, aren’t the bogeymen of this day and age. Partly because it’s too expensive to let them play that role when the difference between winning and losing, success and failure, on a macro scale might come down to how well you leverage your data. And partly because a new generation of startups has emerged to put a smart, user friendly face on big data analytics.

Tom Davenport, a distinguished professor of information technology and management at Babson College and author of "Big Data at Work," says that we’re entering the Analytics 3.0 era, where analytics are becoming part of everyone’s job (not just data scientists and analysts) and that insights need to be delivered anytime you need them via any device.

Analytics 3.0 is a large, still emerging market that’s predicted to grow to almost $60 billion by 2018. The opportunity is huge and there may be posers.

Computing’s giants all seem to want a piece of the pie. They range from IBM with Watson in the Cloud, Analytics solutions in the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, Microsoft’s Power BI in Office 365 (we will have more on this very soon), and now Salesforce with its Analytics Cloud, Wave, which was introduced on Monday.

The latter promises to deliver “Analytics for the rest of us,” but the big question around it is whether it delivers Analytics 3.0 at all. The UI is there, but can it really leverage big data? Does it matter?

“It’s (Salesforce) playing catchup to last-generation of cloud business intelligence offerings rather than attempting a true big data analytics solution," said Ben Werther, CEO and founder of Platfora, a start-up that offers a native big data analytics platform for Hadoop.

We asked a number of the most promising analytics vendors if they saw Wave, which boasts that it will make it easier than ever for anyone to explore data, uncover new insights and take action instantly from any device, as a threat.

Here’s what they told us:

Francois Ajenstat, Tableau 

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“Not really,” says Francois Ajenstat, product management leader at Tableau. He doesn’t see Wave as a threat. “We’re actually a Salesforce partner," he explains.

“A partner they’ll no longer need?” we had to ask. But Ajenstat doesn’t see it that way. “We provide deep analytics, we connect to 40 different data sources out of the box, including Salesforce, Hadoop, Google Analytics, And all you’ll need to connect the is point and click,” says Ajenstat.

Tableau has an impressive solution available via Cloud, on prem and mobile, with beautiful self-service visualizations we’ve seen for ourselves. Salesforce’s visualizations, as far as we’ve been able to tell, look more like charts. Not only that, but at least for now, users will most likely look at their transactions on Wave but their forecasts will be in Excel, a tool they’re highly unlikely to part with. With Tableau they can instantly combine and visualize both together so that “you can see your data and ask important questions,” adds Ajenstat.

To be clear, he says Salesforce Wave is a good thing for the Analytics marketplace, as a whole, because it will make business users more familiar with data analytics. What he doesn’t say is that once they get a taste of what they can do, they’ll want to do more and may very well need to use Tableau to make that happen. Tableau also has a new product, Elastic, in the pipeline that looks pretty snazzy. And it seems to be so confident that no one will be able to build anything quite so compelling any time soon, that they’ve shown previews rather than keeping it top secret.

Tableau’s stock was up the day after Salesforce’s announcement.

Viviana Faga and Ben Werther, Platfora

"One of the biggest problems with Wave is that “it’s fake big data,” says Viviana Faga, vice president marketing at Platfora. By this she means that rather than looking at every piece of data (picture an iceberg) it looks at just the tip of the tip. It really doesn’t deliver on big data’s promise (to look at all of the data), at all.

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"The data challenges of today are only solved with a native end-to-end big data analytics solution that lets business analysts directly ask the multi-structured questions that matter across exploding volumes of transactional, customer interaction and machine data and get answers in minutes and not months," adds Werther.

Roman Stanek, GoodData

Roman Stanek, founder and CEO of GoodData, a “BI without the BS” cloud company, sees the advent of Salesforce’s Analytics Cloud as “an important market validation for cloud analytics.” He adds that GoodData was and continues to be a great partner to Salesforce.com. “We support many analytics use-cases outside of their focus and we complement Salesforce well.”

Interestingly, it seems that the unveiling of Wave didn’t come as a surprise to him.

“Other vendors,” he says “are already panicking to the news by making ERP partnerships and going on the attack.We wish them luck with that approach!”

Southard Jones, Birst

Southard Jones, vice president, product strategy at Birst, says that Wave offers “a nice data discovery tool with a visually-appealing UI that's ideal for one-off analyses on single data sources to answer basic questions like 'How much revenue did we make last year?'"

Learning Opportunities

“However,” he says “It does not tackle the much more complex issues associated with multi-data analytics that enable users to answer more nuanced questions like 'How much revenue did we bring in from customers this year who were not customers last year?'"

And when it comes to Wave’s dependence on third parties to handle that last part of the providing results from Analytics, he says, “Additionally, our enterprise customers are demanding data integration and combination capabilities from their analytics solutions instead of pushing this to third parties. “

George Mathew, Alteryx

Alteryx COO George Mathew sees Wave as an opportunity for strengthening his company’s partnership with Salesforce. “More significant data blending and analytic modeling can naturally be done in Alteryx and pushed to Salesforce Wave," he explains.

He adds that “The ability for data analysts to easily mix internal, third-party and cloud data, and then model spatial and predictive functions with the ease of drag-and-drop tools requires a significant analytics platform (like Alteryx) to complement Salesforce Wave."

Arijit Sengupta, BeyondCore 

Arijit Sengupta, CEO of BeyondCore, a company on a mission to “empower every business user with the power of analytics,” says that Salesforce is focusing on the wrong problem. They’re talking about making data analysis fun.

He likens Wave to play. “It’s like making a PC from scratch by painting the memory chip red and the processor chip purple,” he says. “People wanted a PC so that they could use it to make their lives easier,” he says.“They would not have cared about making the act of assembling the PC 'fun'."

“However, in any data set, there are thousands or millions of potential questions you could ask of it,” he explains.There are also “many visually attractive patterns that are not statistically sound and even many different ways of interpreting the exact same graph,” he adds. “Today business users want software that finds the right questions for them, does the hard statistical analysis for them, creates the presentations for them, and explains the results to them -- all in just minutes without any training."

Needless to say, he doesn’t think that can be done on Salesforce’s analytics cloud.

Gaurav Rewari, Numerify

Gaurav Rewari, CEO at Numerify, which bills itself as a cloud Analytics for High Performance IT provider, says that there’s room enough for everyone in this hot market.

“The IDC projects the bigger data analytics market will grow at an average 9.4 percent a year through 2018,” he says. "Although Salesforce aims to take a stake in this market with its new product offering, the massive market size is large enough to support multiple players and specialized higher-end products to serve the need of a diverse range of enterprises.”

What’s the Real Deal?

Time will tell. Unless someone wants to gather data and make a prediction.

Title image by psyberartist (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license