ECM vs DMS: The Complete Guide

In the world of information management, the two most popular terms are Document Management, also referred to as Document Management System or Document Management Software (DMS), and Enterprise Content Management (ECM).

Any digital transformation initiative within an organization must start with moving away from paper based documents to digital thus adopting either a document management system (DMS) or enterprise content management (ECM) system is a must!

Let’s have a general overview of what these two frameworks (document management system vs enterprise content management) offer and recognize which system fits better your organization.

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What Is a Document Management System?

AIIM defines document management as

Document management, often referred to as Document Management System (DMS), is the use of a computer system and software to store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic images of paper based information captured through the use of a document scanner


To combat the surging in document generation within organizations, software companies started developing Document Management System (DMS) software to manage organizations’ electronic documents such as word files, spreadsheets, and PDF files. The ultimate goal was to achieve what used to be called “Paperless Office”. Document management system (DMS) adoption was significant for their abilities to capture, store, manage, and easily retrieve documents resulting in reducing cost and improving employees productivity.

A good document management system should contain all the functionalities needed for organizations to digitize, manage, locate, and circulate their documents in no time.

The top document management system (DMS) functionalities are:

  • Check out/ check in: Document management system allows users to lock a document for editing and create multiple versions.
  • Hierarchical logical document organization: Document management system provides the ability to organize documents based on types, departments.
  • Capturing information: The most important step to start digitally managing documents within an organization is to import documents into your document management system (DMS) repository.
  • Version control: One of the most critical functionality in any document management system. Without an DMS to control organization’s documents lifecycle, employees can easily lose a document, work on an older version of the document, or can’t revert back to previous versions.
  • Flexible yet powerful security: A good document management system (DMS) will let you control who has access to what based on role based security.
  • Audit trails: The document management system should give you the ability to control documents throughout their lifecycle and one of the most critical step is the ability to view the complete history or log of any activity being performed on a document.
  • Route documents from one person to another using workflows capabilities for documents review and approval. DMS should have a built-in workflow engine to support automatic routing of documents for faster approval & reviews.
  • Fast & Improved Collaboration: Document management system (DMS) will make it easy for your employees to share documents (internally & externally) and provides advanced collaboration functionalities.

If you are looking for a way to digitally manage your structured organizations’ information i.e. word files, spreadsheets, and PDF files and have simple workflow automation for document reviewal & approval then a document management system should be your preferred selection.

I highly advise to read my top viewed article What is EDMS? to get a detailed explanation about document management system definition and help in choosing the most suited DMS for your organization.

What is ECM (Enterprise Content Management Definition)?

Enterprise Content Management is the systematic collection and organization of information that is to be used by a designated audience – business executives, customers, etc. Neither a single technology nor a methodology nor a process, it is a dynamic combination of strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information supporting key organizational processes through its entire lifecycle


Volume, velocity, and variety of information being generated within organizations has been in high increase, This called for a new way of managing information. What used to do the job for only managing organization documents needed to change to cater for managing the full lifecycle of content (structured & unstructured), incorporate workflow tools to automate processes, and deliver content to the right people at the right time and right place. That’s when enterprise content management (ECM) started to be popular in the market. (early 2000)

Enterprise content management is an umbrella term that covers document management, records management, collaboration, workflow management or business process management, web content management, digital asset management, imaging, and archiving.

For a complete and detailed explanation about Enterprise Content Management, check out this article. What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)? The Complete Guide.

Many enterprise content management (ECM) system providers available today started as document management system and throughout the years they evolved to become solutions serving organizations not only in their documents lifecycle management but their full set of content including emails, graphics, pictures, web content, video, multi-media records, and other resources. Basically, an enterprise content management (ECM) system or ECM system is a super-sized, high power document management system (DMS).

Document management capabilities are considered the back bone of enterprise content management (ECM) and in addition they provide the ability to automate simple to complex organization’s processes, and improve collaboration.

Usually a good enterprise content management (ECM) system should contain the below modules

Below is a picture from Gartner demonstrating all the modules that should be available in the enterprise content management (ECM)

Enterprise content management

Do you need help choosing the best enterprise content management (ECM) system for your organization? check out my below two articles which will guide you to the same process I usually take

How To Choose An Enterprise Content Management (ECM) System – Part 1

Top 10 Guidelines For Choosing An Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Solution


As a summary, most document management system functionalities are the back bone of any enterprise content management (ECM) and represents its core module. ECM systems have more improved and evolved concepts than a document management system (document management software) which will result in helping organizations to cover a wider range of business related operations to be digitally transformed.


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