Digital transformation efforts are underway to varying degrees at virtually every company, with projects typically spearheaded by the CIO or CTO. However, they are often driven in pockets of the enterprise by individual employees with expertise and passion for digital, and a vision for how it can help their company become more competitive, according to a recent report from Altimeter.

Dubbed “digital change agents,” these individuals come from different backgrounds and skillsets, but all advocate for the same thing: Using digital tools and processes to improve the business.

“These are the individuals in the organization who are most likely not in a leadership role, and maybe not even in a management role,” Solis said. “But they are exceptionally passionate, informed, and experienced in digital and its impact on business and markets. They’re going out of their roles to try to send that message up the corporate ladder.”

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CIOs and CMO often battle to spearhead digital transformation efforts, past Altimeter research has shown, with the CIOs taking a technology-first approach, and CMOs taking a customer experience path. Digital change agents tend to see how customers and employees are changing, and that efforts need to be cross-functional.

However, these individuals are not experienced in change management–one of the largest barriers to digital transformation success, Solis said. “Digital transformation has less to do about digital, and more about good old-fashioned change management,” Solis said. “The common challenges for digital transformation to go enterprise-wide were all things related to the fear of executives and their colleagues–things like self-preservation, egos, politics. Things that digital change agents aren’t well-versed in how to navigate.”

The C-suite needs to stand up to shareholders and the board and state that digital transformation is not a cost center, but an imperative, Solis said: It must be treated as an investment. Otherwise, digital change agents burn out, and may seek work elsewhere, Solis said.

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“A lot of companies get off on the wrong foot, because they think about digital being purely technology,” said Gary Cole, principal of Deloitte’s Human Capital Technology Strategy. “When you hear digital, everybody thinks about just connected platforms, and tools, and mobile, and social, and the things that make up what I consider digital enablement.”

But true digital transformation is more than just technology–it’s just as much about changing behaviors and organizational structures, Cole said.

“Clients that have done this exceptionally well haven’t just had IT leading it,” Cole said. “It’s been HR and other components of the company working together, recognizing that the biggest hurdle is driving behavioral change and the way that people work together.”

If tools are implemented but are not endorsed at the C-level or built into the culture, companies tend to throw them away and get new tools, without driving any real transformation, Cole said.

“The biggest opportunity is to realize that there are digital champions with within the organization, and that they’re not a threat to people’s jobs or to the future of the organization,” Solis said. “They need to be raised up, so that they can spread their expertise and experience throughout the organization so that digital expertise becomes enterprise-wide.”