Document management software (DMS) and record management software (RMS) are two commonly confused terms. In fact, many potential users believe they’re interchangeable terms that cover the same basic systems. The reality is that while they do solve similar problems and do have some things in common, there are also significant differences between them. We’ll start by defining each individually and then discuss the ways in which they overlap, as well as their differences.


Defining Document Management Software

Simply put, document management software is a system that tracks, manages, and stores documents. Typically, one of the main reasons companies implement them is to reduce paper and create paperless offices. Most document management systems include features like record tracking that saves all versions of a document and notes (including when, why, and by whom the document(s) were changed). Record management systems are related systems, as are enterprise content management (or ECM), document imaging, workflow systems, and digital asset management systems (or DAMS).


Defining Record Management Software

Record management software is part of a business’s broader activities. As opposed to simply helping with document management, it’s more closely associated with compliance, governance, and risk policies. Some of the activities that are typically associated with RMS include:


  • Identifying data that needs to be captured
  • Planning for the business organization
  • Enforcing policies and practices as they apply to creating, maintaining, and disposing of records
  • Creating a plan for storing records
  • Classifying and storing records
  • Coordinating internal and external access to record-keeping, including creating and following policies of privacy and confidentiality


Who Uses DMS and RMS?

It would be easier to list the few industries that can’t benefit from using DMS or RMS than those that do. Essentially any company or organization that has records or documents of any kind could benefit from one of these options. Users include medical practices that want to both secure their information and ensure approved users can access it from anywhere, legal practices that need to assure compliance, and companies that need audit trails for their financial records.


Aren’t Documents and Records Essentially the Same Thing? Not Always!

There are numerous differences between DMS and RMS, but first you must understand that documents and records are not always the same thing. Documents are made up of data or information that is both structured and unstructured, and that can be accessed by users within an organization.

On the other hand, the purpose of a record is to offer evidence of the activities for a given organization. There are specific compliance requirements for records regarding how they’re saved, how they’re accessed, and how they’re destroyed. For the most part, records should not be changed, and in many cases stiff penalties can be assessed if a company changes or attempts to change records.

Keep in mind that it’s true that all records are documents—but not all documents are records. According to some estimates, about 90% of documents within a company are often records. These records must be stored differently than simple documents.


The Differences Between DMS and RMS Simplified

To understand the crucial differences between DMS and RMS, start by understanding why they were created. Document management software systems were developed to allow users to access and manage documents while maintaining a paperless office. Another key element is the ability of several users to collaborate on documents.

On the other hand, record management software systems were developed out of a need to identify, store, maintain, and manage the data that’s used to describe events in a company’s work cycle. They may apply to statutes, regulations, fiscal needs, or operational activities. Unlike DMS, RMS is focused on keeping only the documents that are necessary for a specific period of time.


Key Storage Considerations

One of the most important distinctions between the two systems is the way documents are stored. In DMS, the principle concern when storing documents is ensuring users have access to the information they need quickly and easily. Most systems allow for mobile access from anywhere the user has an internet connection. They generally offer users the ability to revise, lock, and unlock documents, and provide version tracking and audit trails.

On the other hand, the concern of RMS is that documents are saved in their original format to ensure they’re available if they’re needed for compliance or legal reasons. They’re generally saved in a series, or in indexes that are dictated by external rules, not by internal, organization-dictated rules. Record-keeping is so crucial that many organizations also keep an off-site records center to backup their data.


There Are Similarities: Considering Security

While there are numerous differences between records management and document management, there are areas of overlap as well. One key example is security. Both RMS and DMS security is absolutely essential. Both can contain documents that are confidential and both require companies to ensure they’re in compliance with the rules that govern them. It’s easy to see that many companies could benefit from DMS or RMS, and in fact many companies employ both for their varying needs.