Document Management: Confusion in 2021

Document management enjoyed its label for decades. Even as the more comprehensive term, Enterprise Content Management, moved in to take its place, the industry comfortably continued to use "document management." Then, around 2017, Gartner stopped using the term ECM, and started referring to this well-known suite of services as "Content Services." Half the industry at that point still held on to "document management" and half the industry had adopted the bigger-sounding ECM title. So the sweeping in of yet another descriptor wasn't lovingly admired. Not right away.

It's safe to say that in the ever-changing world of information, coining new terms is a surefire way to kick up some marketing dust and make a quick sale. It's been four years since the last terminology tumble and one thing has become clear: behind the swapping of acronyms, Document Management and ECM and Content Services each have minor differences — although not necessarily in the context of vendor selection.

So, let's cut the red tape and dive into the truth. Why did ECM replace document management as the de facto solution for organizations looking to build comprehensive and transparent document ecosystems? And is there really a difference between Document Management Services, Enterprise Content Management, and Content Services?

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Understanding Document Management

Document Management Systems (DMS) store, track, and (to a lesser extent) manage documents for your organization. Obviously, that definition is a little broad, so let's break down exactly what "store, track, and manage" means in the context of industry-standard DMS solutions.

  • Store: Document Management Systems act as centralized document repositories. To facilitate this, many DMS provide document imaging and scanning capabilities. This includes features such as optical character recognition (OCR), bulk scanning operations, or even digital mailrooms to expedite digitization. So, a DMS acts as both a digitization facilitation agent via scanning and imaging and as a storage solution via a categorized, secure, and easily-browsable cloud architecture.
  • Track: DMS isn't only a storage-centric solution; it helps you track documents throughout their digital lifecycle. This includes version controls, document lockdowns, audit trail tracking, and access controls that help your organization understand the end-to-end journey of each and every document.
  • Manage: Depending on your DMS, you may also have some "light" automation or workflow capabilities. But, generally, these are sparsely offered, and they often don't live up to modern automation standards. So, the main emphasis of DMS is the store and track capabilities.

It's important to note that Document Management Systems only support "traditional" (i.e., hyper-structured) documents like PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, and Word files. It's probably easiest to think of DMS as a digital library. It helps you store your digital files based on robust and standardized classification systems, and it tracks each and every document touchpoint (or "check out") through a ledger of sorts.

What is Enterprise Content Management?

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) captures, stores, manages, and preserves content across your business ecosystem. To start, ECM contains all of the features that DMS offers. But it also offers additional "must-have" features for today's digital landscape. Let's break down the core features of ECM.

  • Capture: Like DMS, ECM can capture data across multiple layers. From OCR to digital mailrooms and scanning services, ECM helps you digitize existing paper documents.
  • Store: Again, similar to DMS, ECM provides end-to-end cloud storage and security. One major difference is that most ECMs (and this is likely due to modernity) use hyper-scalable private clouds as opposed to public cloud databases.
  • Manage: ECM also allows for some level of workflow automation. In addition, a well-rounded ECM will feature auto-encryption and access controls that help you build scalable and meaningful information ecosystems.
  • Preserve: ECM helps you retain, archive, and delete data in compliance with regulatory requirements. Additionally, ECM can automatically apply internal rules and policies to your data for security and/or compliance needs.

Unlike DMS (in theory), ECM is capable of supporting both traditional structured documents and unstructured content. Most of us deal with an onslaught of file types. From images and audio files to video files, the digital age has brought us a variety of converging data types. ECM can handle all of these content needs.

However, it's important to note that the rise in popularity of these types of unstructured files coincides with ECM. To be clear, ECM was coined specifically to differentiate between solutions that handled traditional files vs. emerging file types. However, that doesn't mean that ALL ECMs support these file types, nor does it mean that ALL DMSs fail to support these file types.

Vendor naming preferences don't always match firm naming conventions.

DMS vs. ECM: An Unnecessary Battle

To be honest, the term "document management is dead" is a bit of a stretch. In fact, we would go so far as to say that DMS rebrandings have been primarily driven by marketing. Document management isn't dead. And, ECM isn't really all that different from document management. Instead, we consider ECM to be a natural evolution of DMS.

In fact, plenty of companies still use the term DMS and ECM interchangeably. It's all about context. If a company markets its solution as a DMS, but it contains the same features as an ECM, then it's an ECM. Remember, Enterprise Content Management contains all of the same features as Document Management Solutions. But they also provide some additional features and file type support. These new features are borderline necessities in today's business ecosystem. And, behind the fluff, the smoke, and the mirrors, lies a simple truth: both ECM and DMS are centralized document repositories that deal with capture, management, storage, and utilization.

We know this may not be the answer you wanted. After all, saying that ECMs are automatically superior to DMS makes vendor selection easier. But it's not that simple. As an example, we call our world-class Mercury solution an "ECM." But it's also a DMS. And, we've seen plenty of other vendors marketing solutions with fewer features as "Content Services" to feed the hype.

It all comes down to features.

Unfortunately, in the vague world of tech terms, you have to reach out, talk to vendors, and discuss the only thing that matters — features. Because, at the end of the day, you can call the same solution a DMS, ECM, or Content Service and get away with it. They're all closely related. In our opinion, DMS is a subset of ECM, and "Content Services" is too new and broadly defined to justify a name shift. But that's us. And other vendors will likely have their own opinions on document management nomenclature.

Discover ECM For Yourself

There's real value in content management. The average employee spends over 25% of their time simply searching for information, and poor decisions made on out-of-date documents and poor data costs businesses trillions in lost revenue per year. But, the naming convention of your document management solution matters far less than its features. You need a transparent, scalable, and centralized document management solution that can handle structured and unstructured data, breed security, and facilitate collaboration. We can help. At DRS, we may not spend our time constantly refreshing the nomenclature of our solutions to meet naming guidelines put out by research firms, but we do spend our time building one of the world's fastest, smartest, and most impactful DMS/ECM/Content Service solutions. Are you ready to skip the marketing hype and dive into something meaningful and tangible? Contact us. Let's build an amazing information management culture — together.