Zwei Frauenhände halten jeweils einen ApfelTwo women's hands holding an apple and a banana as part of a DMS campaign.

19 October 2021

DMS vs. ECM: What is managed here?

Uncertainty is growing: In times of decreasing overview due to the increasing accumulation of digital content, companies want more organization. In other words, a system that manages all documents. What sounds simple at first is confusing when you look at the market for such solutions: There are many types of DMS/ECM systems. What does DMS mean and is an ECM the same as a CMS?

What makes the difference

The value chain no longer begins with the production of goods. Knowledge in the form of data is just as valuable to companies, and its availability is at least the basis for a smooth working environment. The solution: a functioning system for managing documents. But providers confuse their customers with many different abbreviations.

DMS stands for document management system, ECM for enterprise content management and CMS for content management system. But aren’t they the same thing? What is the difference between content and a document? Aren’t documents also content? In a world of abbreviations and buzzwords, it is important to remember that people do not (at least not always) try to disguise the truth, but rather to differentiate. Even if that is not always that easy.

What can a DMS do?

Transformation in process: Many millions of documents are now created digitally every day in Germany. And in the worst case, they are stored in such a way that no one can find them. After all, digitalization alone is redundant if the wealth of knowledge that accumulates in a company is not made available. A document management system (DMS) performs several tasks in a company:

  • Capture: Every incoming document is scanned and tagged with keywords. The DMS can serve as an interface to existing solutions and link existing applications and specialized procedures like a central office.
  • Organization: The digital documents, which can also be e-mails, are grouped together in virtual (project) folders. If work is done across projects, each document can be in different folders at the same time without duplicates.
  • Availability: A DMS makes sure that every employee at every workplace can access the document, either via web browser or app, of course while respecting security requirements and data protection. This is the basis for mobile working in the home office or on business trips.
  • Sharing: Only a functioning digital DMS can make the work process more efficient. A DMS also has the function to ensure workflows. The versioning of documents is important here, so that changes are traceable and do not result in a conflict of different work versions.
  • Archiving: What used to end up in the basement or at least in the filing cabinet is archived in an audit-proof way on the server or in the cloud with a DMS. Intelligent document lifecycle management keeps the archive lean because nothing is kept beyond the legal deadline.

Document vs. content

But what exactly is a document, and what is content? This is where the insecurity continues: Depending on the definition, a document can be a written document, a deed, or a file that can be processed by computer. In principle, any document that reaches or leaves a company. It can be an invoice or an e-mail, a pay slip or a file, or just basically: what you used to be able to file in a folder is a document.

The term content defines the document a little further. In addition to the text form, there are also images (for example, in hospitals, where X-ray images are added to a file) or videos (explanatory films, interviews, company presentations, etc.). Content is therefore just a collective term for information items that cannot be adequately described by the word document. So why the separation?

ECM vs. DMS vs. CMS

So if a DMS is a solution for managing documents and content in the company – what does a CMS do? And how does this differ from ECM?

In a classic Content Management System (CMS), digital content is prepared for use on the Internet, generally for a company’s websites. In other words, images, photos, and texts that are produced specifically for these websites. Creation of user accounts, installation of themes, i.e., design templates, administration of plug-ins – all this is managed with this tool. The CMS is connected to a database where all this content is stored. One of the most popular CMS is for example WordPress.

But isn’t a whitepaper both a document and content, uploaded to the website via a CMS on demand, to be downloaded by visitors to the site? You will ask yourself: isn’t this splitting hairs – an artificial confusion? In principle, yes. But now that these terms are circulating, there is certainly a reason for it.

An ECM contains the term “enterprise”. This simply means that the content management system extends across the entire company, i.e. it is not an isolated solution for a specific, usually small group of users. In contrast to a pure CMS, an ECM is therefore intended for all employees in the company, not just for the content managers who take care of publishing content on the company’s own website.

The term DMS in turn says nothing about where, by whom and how documents are managed.

In a nutshell …

Internal vs. external: The use of content is the crux of the matter. An ECM, as offered by OPTIMAL SYSTEMS, for example, is a classic DMS which covers all content created and managed within a company. All employees have access to this data from anywhere via their own account – for editing, forwarding, or archiving. A CMS, in contrast, is a special form of DMS that is primarily used to provide content for websites.

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