ECM vs DMS: The Complete Guide

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In the world of information management, the two most popular terms are Document Management, also referred to as Document Management System and Enterprise Content Management. In this article, we will detail the difference between ECM and DMS.

ECM is a set of strategies, methods, and technologies that allow enterprises to collect, manage, and send information to the appropriate people at the right time. While a DMS is a system used inside in organizations to gather, store, manage, and conveniently retrieve data.

Any digital transformation initiative within an organization must start with moving away from paper-based documents to digital thus adopting one of these systems is a must!

Let’s have a general overview of what these two frameworks offer and recognize which system fits your organization better.

What Is a DMS?

AIIM defines it as

Document management, often referred to as Document Management System, 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 surge in document generation within organizations, software companies started developing software to manage organization’s electronic documents such as word files, spreadsheets, and PDF files.

The ultimate goal was to achieve what used to be called Paperless Office. Their adoption was significant for their abilities to capture, store, manage, and easily retrieve documents resulting in reducing cost and improving employees’ productivity.

A high-quality system should contain all the functionalities needed for organizations to digitize, manage, locate, and circulate their documents in no time.

The top functionalities are:

  • Check out/ check-in: Allows users to lock a document for editing and create multiple versions.
  • Hierarchical logical document organization 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 system repository.
  • Version control: One of the most critical functionality. Without a system to control an organization’s documents lifecycle, employees can lose a document, work on an older version of the document, or can’t revert to previous versions.
  • Powerful security: A good system will let you control who has access to what based on role-based security.
  • Audit trails: The system should give you the ability to control documents throughout their lifecycle and one of the most critical steps 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 document review and approval. It should have a built-in workflow engine to support automatic routing of documents for faster approval & reviews.
  • Fast & Improved Collaboration: The system 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 example word files, spreadsheets, and PDF files, and have simple workflow automation for document reviewal & approval then a DMS should be your preferred selection.

I highly advise reading the below article to get a detailed definition and help in choosing the most suited system for your organization.

What is Document Management System? The Complete Guide (

What is ECM

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 generated within organizations have been in high increase. That 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 it started to be popular in the market. (early 2000)

Unstructured Data

ECM 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, check out this article.

What is (ECM)? The Complete Guide

Many system providers available today started as a DMS and throughout the years they evolved to become solutions serving organizations not only in their documents lifecycle but their full set of content including emails, graphics, pictures, web content, video, multi-media records, and other resources.

An ECM system is a super-sized, high-power DMS.

Document management capabilities are considered the backbone of ECM and also, they provide the ability to automate simple to complex organizational processes and improve collaboration.

Usually a good system should contain the below modules

  • Records Management
  • Document Management: Represents the core module. Check out my previously published article covering Records Mgt & Document Management
  • Collaboration: For more information, check out my previously published article: Why Collaboration is extremely important.
  • EFSS (Enterprise file sync and sharing): i.e. integration with Dropbox
  • Web Content Management.
  • Business Process Management: Giving the ability to automate internal and external processes. for more information, you can check out my previously published article: Automate Organizations processes.
  • Archiving: Check out my previously published article covering: Archiving Documents.
  • Imaging

Below is a picture from Gartner demonstrating all the modules that should be available

Do you need help choosing the best 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 System – Part 1

Top 10 Guidelines For Choosing An ECM Solution


In summary, most document management system functionalities are the backbone of any system and represent its core module.

ECM systems have improved and evolved concepts which will result in helping organizations to cover a wider range of business-related operations to be digitally transformed.

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