This article is part of Our Top 5 Tech Stocks For 2011 series.

Choosing the top tech stock for the year ahead isn't easy in an environment like this. Call the market overvalued, call the economy lousy, but don't call tech stocks expensive.

Apple and my 2010 pick, Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM), are among the many cashing in on big opportunities even as they sit on billions in stored up cash. Why didn't I choose either of them this year? Because a sizable opportunity, while great, isn't enough when you're looking only at the year ahead. Here's what I looked for:

  • Growth momentum.
  • An obvious opportunity.
  • Hidden value.

Qlik Technologies (Nasdaq: QLIK), another of my picks for Motley Fool Rule Breakers, meets all these criteria and more. Allow me to introduce you.

Gimme a B! Gimme an I! What's that spell?
QlikTech may be small and a recent IPO, but it isn't new. The company was founded in Sweden in 1993 as a consulting firm. Today, its principal operations are in Radnor, Pa., and its business is business intelligence.

QlikTech's primary product is QlikView, and it's found an enthusiastic following. More than 16,000 customers now use the software, up more than sevenfold since 2005. In this sense, QlikTech resembles fellow Rule Breaker Rackspace Hosting (NYSE: RAX). Customers have become fans, and fans have a way of funding outrageous growth.

To be fair, QlikTech has several large competitors. SAP's (NYSE: SAP) Business Objects, IBM's (NYSE: IBM) Cognos, and privately held SAS Institute have led the market for years. Microsoft is also becoming a serious competitor with tools attached to its SQL Server database. All four companies sell BI as part of broader packages of analytical software.

And if that weren't bad enough, QlikTech also has smaller rivals that specialize in BI. Actuate (Nasdaq: BIRT) has helped shepherd an open-source movement called Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools, or BIRT. MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR) generates more than $400 million in BI revenue annually.

Businesses want to be smart, but so do employees
What sets QlikTech's technology apart from the alternatives is simplicity and speed. QlikView processes data in memory rather than through an attached database, and then presents results in a dashboard that looks and acts like a Web page in a browser. Name a device, and there's a good chance QlikView was built to take advantage of it.

Therein lies the opportunity. For years, BI has been sold primarily to executive teams, and for good reason. Employing BI meant creating an expensive infrastructure to extract information from a database and crunch it into bite-sized analytical reports viewable only on a computer.

Techies call this approach online analytical processing (OLAP), and it requires customized programming languages, tools, and a mixture of hardware and software. Think of it as the corporate data equivalent of mining for gold.

QlikView allows users this same ability to mine for data, but to do so without the need for a complex OLAP infrastructure. Thus, it costs less to deploy to thousands of users. Data get distributed fast.

The value of disruption
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying QlikView is so disruptive that it'll end the need for OLAP. There are always going to complex problems for which it'll be necessary to have Big Hardware attached to Big Databases and mined by Big Tools. Just not in every case.

QlikTech's advantage is that simplicity breeds use, and use leads to distribution of essential information. This is how smarter organizations get born. But don't take my word for it. Mitsubishi's Electric Cooling and Heating Solutions group said in a press release that its investment in QlikView paid for itself in two months.

Enterprise-level software rarely produces such extreme ROI. But to read the statistics at QlikTech's site suggests the company hears these sorts of stories all the time. QlikTech claims a 186% average ROI for QlikView. Three straight quarters of greater-than-35% revenue growth lends credence to its assertion.

For investors, the impact of this growth becomes obvious once you look at the cash flow statement. There, you'll see the company has produced more than $30 million in free cash flow over the past year, up more than 180%.

Investors who object to QlikTech's triple-digit price-to-earnings multiple should read that line again, and then understand that Gartner analysts have found that only 28% of employees who have access to old school BI reports actually use them.

Simple, fast QlikView can raise that ratio, and substantially boost QlikTech's profits and cash flow in the process. That's why this stock is a bargain. Actually, it's more than that. It's the best tech stock for 2011.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.