Now, more than ever, businesses are seeking efficient and cost-effective means of organizing, managing, sharing, and archiving digital information. However, it seems lately that we are being bombarded by technical acronyms; ECM, DMS, and CMS are just some of the widely used industry specific terms that generally do not have inherent meaning in everyday vernacular.

This has not been made easier by vendors that seek to market their products as broadly as possible. One cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the myriad software and various overlaps in both functionality and terminology.

In this article we will be examining the two most common terms mentioned in the realm of digital information management; Document Management Software (DMS) and Enterprise Content Management (ECM). It is important to have a general understanding of how to distinguish between the two systems as a first step to determining which solution is right for your organization.

Though the two models complement each other’s needs, they each possess intrinsic functionality differences which are beneficial to your business needs when used appropriately.


Document Management Software (DMS)

Before delving into Document Management Software, let’s first examine what Document Management entails. Document management, which is the backbone of document control, pertains to how documents are stored, organized, tracked, and managed.

According to ISO 12651-2, a document may be defined as “recorded information or object which can be treated as a unit.” While this may not say much, simply put, a document is anything written, printed, or electronic that provides information.

Document management software is primarily concerned with, and is most effective in, managing simpler documents for smaller organizations—its benefits being primarily rooted in document lifecycle management. It manages how documents are created, reviewed, collaborated on, and funneled through workflow.

Additionally, document management software allows ease of collaboration and information sharing between users, particularly virtual teams.


Some of the key features of document management software include:

  • Check-in/Check-out and locking processes to coordinate the simultaneous editing of documents from multiple users.
  • Version control so different versions can be easily distinguished and ensure that the most recent version is being edited. This feature is also useful for internal and external auditing purposes.
  • Audit trails to permit the reconstruction of the various document editors during the lifecycle of the document.


Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

Whereas DMS is merely a software, Enterprise Content Management is a set of strategies combined with high-powered enterprise management software. Content management entails the systematic collection, logical organization, accessibility, and delivery of content and documents to a designated audience.

Though Enterprise Content Management (ECM) can handle file types associated with document management, ECM typically focuses on the management of unstructured electronic file formats such as email, graphics, images, web page content, video, multi-media files, and other tangible assets. Essentially, it is a super-sized, high power DMS.

ECM can be thought of as an automated system with dynamic strategies, methods, and tools that have the ability to deliver information and content to defined audiences. It is for this reason that ECM technology is widely employed for use in managing website content.


Some of the key features of Enterprise Content Management include:

  • The ability to manage social content
  • The ability to manage video rich media assets
  • Configures high volumes of unstructured content
  • High-octane security and compliance features
  • Information analytics and insight


Which is Right for You?

As mentioned before, there are similarities between both systems. In fact, roughly 20% of what constitutes ECM is DMS in its entirety. They are both enterprise grade solutions that reduce operational costs, help organizations go paperless, and facilitate streamlined internal processes. However, ECM is a better fit for larger organizations that want major overhaul to their preexisting IT infrastructure.

They can both provide web-based or network-based collaboration and information sharing between users; both can track files throughout their life cycle and they both provide security and systematic approaches to preserve confidential information.