What is the difference between a DMS (document management software) system and an ECM (enterprise content management) system?

That’s one of the most common questions we get from people who are looking to implement technology that will streamline their processes. Both are types of software used for document storage capabilities, and both help organizations create a smarter way of organizing and accessing information in a digital format. However, the terms DMS and ECM are not interchangeable. On the contrary, these two types of document repositories have several notable differences that organizations should consider before choosing one or the other as a means of managing unstructured digital data.

What is a Document Management Software System (DMS)?

A DMS system is basically software that stores, tracks and manages electronic documents. You might think of it as a digital filing cabinet with increased security, and typically, it’s a simpler solution for most businesses that is easier to use and requires less management. But it also is much more than a simple file storage solution. A DMS is used primarily to digitize and archive files and track and manage new documents throughout their lifecycle, as they are written, revised, and updated.

DMS is the core solution to the problem of helping companies organize, access, retain and safeguard their documents. The essence of a DMS is documents and how to manage every part of them and their related tasks.

What is an Enterprise Content Management System (ECM)?

ECM systems are more like a formalized means for storing and managing an organization’s process documentation and other content. Some even look at it as a super-sized, high power DMS. Think of it as an intelligent solution able to automatically recognize content and “know” where/whom to send it to. It manages different types of content, and can also help with email management, imaging, digital asset management, document centric collaboration, and business process management.

Essentially, ECMs help configure high volumes of unstructured information that can and needs to be used by multiple people across an entire organization.

Platform Commonalities

While document management software systems (DMS) and enterprise content management (ECM) platforms are inherently different, they also bear a number of commonalities. Both platforms provide fully centralized storage of files and information in a digital format.

By digitizing company files, documents, and other data, both types of software can help companies go paperless, make files accessible from anywhere, provide disaster recovery and superb security, and support easy file collaboration between multiple users.

Of course, specific features vary between different document management systems and enterprise content management platforms. However, quality enterprise-ready versions of both software should include features such as:

  • Storage system templates
  • Indexing
  • Workflow
  • Versioning
  • Audit trails
  • Mobile access
  • Encryption for files at rest and in transit
  • Advanced system search options

Outside of these features, both DMS and ECM should also provide the following benefits:

  • Accessibility, streamlined processes, and great security features
  • SaaS technology
  • Shared indexing, workflow, versioning, and audit trails
  • Add-on tools and modules in most packages
  • Fully centralized storage of files in digital format
  • Provide disaster recovery
  • Cost savings
  • Help companies go paperless
  • Templates
  • Unbound by storage geography
  • Benefit the environment
  • Sold by organizations with integration technology
  • Facilitate green technology
  • Designed to consider retention regulations

Some freeware ECM or DMS programs won’t come with all of these features, which can be a convincing argument proving the value of a paid or subscription-based service.

DMS vs. ECM: The Differences Between the Platforms

Despite their similarities, document management software systems and enterprise content management platforms also have several significant differences.

DMS software is essentially a version of enterprise content management. DMS programs are used specifically to store, track, and manage electronic documents, with the major focus being on structured documents like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or PDF files. Enterprises typically use document management software to digitize their filing systems and go paperless. DMS systems are usually outfitted with OCR (optical character recognition), making it easy to use the programs to create editable digital versions of your print files.

Providing a similar structure to a filing cabinet—except in digital format and with stronger security and organization principles—DMS programs are useful to organizations because they simplify the entire process of document management. With DMS, you have easy digital control of the entire lifecycle of every document in your library, from the creation stage to revisions and updates, all the way to document retention, ongoing file accessibility and sharing those documents with internal and external stakeholders. You can even automate certain business processes with document management systems, such as archiving or deletion of client documents after specific periods of time.

An ECM system is an advanced means of storing and managing an organization’s process documentation and other data. These systems can be used to do everything DMS can (digitizing data, organizing files into an easily searchable filing system, etc.), but with a stronger focus on the data, instead of each individual document.

One of the major contrasts between DMS and ECM software is that while a DMS system is used mainly to organize “structured” Word or PDF documents, images, and more, ECM can manage the information within website content, emails, video and audio files, rich media assets, and more. In other words, ECM systems are a more comprehensive means of managing all of a company’s information on a multimedia level.


Applications for DMS and ECM Programs

The highly advanced nature of ECM platforms means that they are quite expensive, complex to implement, and ultimately not practical for the average organization. Larger organizations with medium to high levels of risk (including healthcare organizations, law firms, universities, and other sizable clients) might implement an enterprise content management system for a range of purposes, including the processing of invoices, patient health charts, insurance claims, automation of accounts payable, and more.

DMS, while they may seem less advanced than ECM programs at first glance, are far more common and useful for organizations having to handle numerous documents. If you need to look at each document as a whole instead of pieces of information taken from each one, a DMS would be perfect for you. Additionally, a DMS like Rubex comes with advanced and intuitive features that bring your documents to life and let them work for you. So not only will it simplify your file organization, but it can streamline and automate all of your document-centric tasks so you can have more time in your day to focus on the most important aspects of your job. Explore Rubex today!