The ECM vs. DMS debate has been around for years and will likely continue for many more to come. ECM and DMS are two very different entities in the world of information management, but often overlap when it comes to features.

ECM is a software solution that integrates with other systems within your enterprise, while a DMS is an application that manages document storage on an individual level.

With so much confusion surrounding these two acronyms, we break down what ECMs and DMSS offer as well as their differences in order to help you make a better-educated decision about which option would best fit your needs.

ECM: ECM is a formalized means for managing and storing an organization’s process documentation and other essential databases.

DMS: A document management system stores electronic documents and tracks them.

Confused yet? Let’s start by sharing some general similarities between an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Document Management System (DMS).

The Difference Between DMS and ECM 

ECM is more than just a means for storing and managing your organization’s documents. ECM can include many facets, including both unstructured and structured data, such as:

  • Images
  • Email
  • Video
  • Electronic documents
  • Web content

ECM systems with their advanced security features often attract risk-driven consumers, such as professionals, universities, or lawyers.

Common ECM Features:

  • Digital asset management
  • Workflows
  • Audit trails
  • Business process management
  • Email management
  • Imaging
  • Indexing
  • Document collaboration

ECM is an office assistant, able to identify the content of a document and know when to send it.


Document Management Systems are intended to control the life cycle of documents, including document creation, accessibility and retention.

Document Management System (DMS) is your digital filing cabinet and Enterprise Content Management System (ECM) is your Office Assistant.

A DMS differs from ECM in a few ways. Primarily, its primary focus is not on content management but rather the entity as a complete object.

DMSs are a type of ECM as they share the same core function: managing documents.

Common DMS Features:

  • Workflows
  • Audit trails
  • Indexing

DMS vs. ECM- The Differences Between the two document tools

While enterprise content management and document management systems may share similarities, there are also key differences between the two.

DMS software is less powerful than ECM with a focus on electronic documents.

Leading companies typically use document management software to digitize their filing systems and go paperless.

Giving the common filing cabinet- but as a digital format with stronger principles of organization and security, DMS programs are effective to organizations because they make simple the entire process of document management.

With DMS, you have an easy digital control to help you manage the whole life cycle of every potential document in your digital library from the stage of creation- revisions -updates. All the way through to document ongoing file accessibility & retention.

With needs for specific texts in mind, document management systems can automate processes like archiving or deletion of client documentation after predetermined periods.

ECM can manage, emails, graphics, images, website content, videos and audio files. A DMS system is used to organize structured PDF or Word documents.

ECM systems are more comprehensive in what they do, which is to manage all of a company’s digital assets on a multimedia level.

Applications for DMS and ECM 

  • ECM systems are incredibly sophisticated. They’re expensive, complex to install and not practical for small organizations.
  • Other large clients may use ECM programs for a variety of purposes, including processing invoices, insurance claims, patient health charts and more.
  • Larger companies will utilize ECM technology because both the systems and the expense of purchasing an ECM program provide invaluable benefits.

Furthermore, the key difference between a DMS and ECM system is that a Document Management System is core in helping organizations organize, protect, and retain their documents.

Enterprise Content Management is more robust than a simple Document Management System, as it includes features from a capable DMS and adds the capability to handle alternative media and manage unstructured data.

The benefits of both ECM and DMS are noticeable, but choosing the best system for your company requires careful consideration.

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