Lars Bjork, CEO of Qlik Technologies
Courtesy of Qlik Technologies

Ask a question, any question.

By Heather Clancy
February 17, 2016

Those in the business of technology spending forecasts remain relatively sanguine about the prospects for business intelligence and analytics software. In early February, Gartner predicted sales would reach $16.9 billion worldwide in 2016, an increase of 5.2% over last year.

Understandably, this outlook has inspired plenty of funding and all manners of consolidation, especially for software that makes visualizing data trends simpler for those without special training in “data science.”

On Tuesday alone, there were two related developments. SAP disclosed it will pay an undisclosed sum for Roambi, which specializes in mobile apps for charting data insights. (The company was backed by close to $50 million.) Meanwhile, startup Zoomdata scored another $25 million infusion, this one led by Goldman Sachs.

Despite all the hoopla, two high-profile independent companies that focus on visualizing data trends for non-techies—Tableau Software data and Qlik Technologies qlik —are struggling to make their case with investors. Tableau’s stock, currently trading in the $41-per-share range, has lost more than 50% of its value since Dec. 31. Qlik has fared better. Early Wednesday afternoon, its shares were hovering around $19, compared with $31.85 at the end of last year.

At least part of those declines, of course, can be attributed to the broad trend downward for many tech stocks. What’s more, when it issued its latest financial results, Tableau unsettled analysts and investors with the one-time revelation that it is unlikely to benefit from a deferred tax asset. What has investors more worried, apparently, is what analysts viewed as relatively weak forward-looking guidance issued by both software companies—despite the otherwise optimistic forecasts for the business intelligence software category.

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Here are the numbers. Right now, Tableau is slightly larger from a revenue standpoint than Qlik with $654 million in revenue last year, compared with its competitor’s total of $613 million. The companies’ customer counts are pretty close: Tableau claims 39,000, while Qlik’s latest number is around 38,000. Traditionally speaking, Qlik generates a higher proportion of its revenue internationally than Tableau, which isn’t surprising given that the company was founded in Sweden.

If the companies deliver against their current 2016 guidance, however, that delta is likely to grow larger over the next six months. According to remarks made by CFO Tom Walker on its earnings call, Tableau anticipates revenue of $830 million to $850 million this year, while Qlik projects $695 million to $705 million. Both forecasts were lower than analysts originally expected.

How to lift that pall? One mantra you can expect Qlik and its army of sales partners to sound often over the next 12 months is the need for business analytics software to become ever simpler without becoming too simplistic. Managers shouldn’t have to think of every question they want to ask ahead of time.

“This is not something you can build and install and leave alone,” Qlik CEO Lars Bjork told Fortune. “Your data sets are fluid, new ones will emerge all the time. Analytics is a journey. You will never be finished.”

You can also expect to see Qlik spend even more time preaching its message directly to front-line managers rather than the information technology department. “IT will get involved at some point, of course, but the process is very different for our software,” Bjork said.

Typically, Qlik installations pay for themselves within a few quarters if not sooner, based on costs saved or new revenue generated through its insights, he said.

That’s an important metric when you consider that almost half of all technology purchasing decisions—about 47% by 2019— are now driven by non-technical business managers who need to justify their investments carefully.

In North America alone, approximately $327 billion of all corporate technology spending last year was funded by line-of-business budgets, according to new estimates by market research firm IDC. Now more than ever, business intelligence software companies like Qlik and Tableau must speak to that psyche.

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