Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) offer intelligent information management solutions.

Because of their similar names and acronyms, they can appear to be interchangeable options for document management.

However, there are a few key differences between the two. Understanding these differences can help you determine what each offers, whether you need them, and how they can help you achieve long-term success.

What is EDMS?

An EDMS is a piece of software that stores and organizes documents. An EDMS allows for the remote creation and management of data. This includes images, documents, and a vast array of other types of files.

They also offer document capture and conversion solutions. Most EDMS offer customizable automation options that can help streamline your document management processes.

Benefits of EDMS

An EDMS offers many benefits for improving business processes. Most of these benefits revolve around the records management solutions an EDMS offers. Some of the most important benefits of EDMS are:

Single intelligence hub

An EDMS gives you a single hub that houses all of your data, information, and intelligence. This helps increase accessibility to needed documents by preventing information silos, and reducing search times.

This essentially makes an EDMS a digital filing cabinet with enough space for all of your important documents.

Reduced reliance on paper

Paper documents are vulnerable to damage, difficult to search, and take up a lot of space. This can waste valuable time and money on storage and organization. EDMS software simplifies the use of digital information, reducing your need for paper. It can also help you digitize any paper documents you might currently have, increasing security and freeing up storage space.

Advanced search options

An EDMS offers a wide variety of metadata tagging options. You can set automated tagging rules that tag documents with relevant keywords and information as you capture and store them. You can also choose to tag documents manually.

Some EDMS solutions have character recognition that can search a document for keywords. It can do so regardless of file type, including the text featured in an image.

Simply put, you can search for any information or keyword tags and quickly find the document you need.


Versioning is important for eliminating outdated and duplicate documents. With versioning, the EDMS tracks any alterations made to a document. Tracking versions accomplishes two things:

  1. Only the newest version of a document is filed/immediately available
  2. Users can revert the document to any chosen earlier version as needed

This helps facilitate something otherwise difficult in information management: collaboration. Versioning typically only allows one user at a time to alter a document. It also tracks who’s made which changes. This lets colleagues collaborate without getting in each other’s way while tracking each other’s contributions.

What is ECM?

ECM involves all the processes and procedures involving documents, data, and information throughout your enterprise. This includes all tools (such as software), as well as the tasks, projects, and policies that regulate the use of those documents.

Or, as the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) puts it, an ECM is “the strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes.”

On the surface, this may sound like an EDMS. But ECM is more of an umbrella term that encompasses EDMS. Think of it like this:

An EDMS is the software for storing documents within your ECM.

Note: it’s also important not to confuse an ECM with a CMS (Content Management System). Though they’re related, CMS refers to a piece of software that focuses specifically on web content management.

Benefits of ECM

Enterprise Content Management systems offer enhanced customization options that come with many benefits. And, because they’re scalable, these benefits can affect your entire enterprise. Some benefits of an ECM include:

Increased security

With ECM software, you can create custom rules about what information a user can access. You can restrict or grant access based on criteria for each user, such as the specific needs of their job description.

Depending on your ECM, you can also block users from viewing specific pieces of information within a document. For instance, suppose a team member needs to review a document that contains sensitive information they don’t need (such as someone’s telephone or social security number). You could set a rule that users who don’t need that information can view the document but with that information blocked out or redacted.

As an added security measure, you can also track document usage. This lets you see who accesses each document and how they use it, so you can more easily discover breaches.

Lifecycle management

An ECM’s automation tools help you manage your documents for their entire lifecycle. You can set rules-based triggers that do things such as:

  • Create or capture documents automatically
  • Deliver information to team members when they need it
  • Track document usage
  • Delete or archive documents

You can also create triggers that help you follow any industry-related regulations regarding the storage, use, and accessibility of any sensitive information or documents.

Improved workflows

An ECM solution’s customizable rules can also help you create automated workflows. This can help you establish standard steps and practices for everything from everyday tasks to larger projects. Standardizing business processes in this way can help you monitor projects, find and fix any blockages, and increase productivity. This helps you continue to optimize workflows to prevent bottlenecks and other common issues.

Handles unstructured data

Structured data offers information that is already processed, quick to find, and easy to use. Unstructured data can be time-consuming, expensive, and pile up quickly.

It also makes up 80% of stored information.

But unstructured data includes things like social media usage, blog information, and website information. This makes it extremely useful, as it helps you better understand how your customers behave.

With an ECM, you can store unstructured data in its raw form. Then, you can process it as needed. Some ECM solutions even let you open raw files in their native applications.

This reduces the need to process every bit of information your organization creates, saving you time and money.


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