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Content management vs. document management: What’s the difference?

Content management and document management are often used interchangeably in the business world, but is it really that simple?

While content management systems (CMS) and document management systems (DMS) perform similar functions, the digital information they manage is entirely different. A CMS primarily manages website content, including articles, images, and videos. A DMS, on the other hand, is only responsible for documents such as spreadsheets, PDFs, and contracts.

In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look into the similarities and differences between content management vs. document management, discussing their features, uses, advantages, and more. We’ll also provide some insight into how to choose between a CMS vs. DMS, helping you make a decision that suits your business.

What is content management?

Content management is the practice of closely overseeing every step of the content lifecycle, from creating and editing to publishing and archiving. To streamline the content management process, it is often done with the help of software platforms called CMS. So, what exactly can a CMS do? And how can a business reap its benefits?

CMS features

While different content management systems come with their own set of features, the majority tend to include these essential functionalities:

  • Content creation: A CMS simplifies content creation through intuitive interfaces. This enables users to compose engaging articles, seamlessly embed images, and more, all without the need for extensive coding or design skills.
  • Workflow automation: With built-in automation, a CMS helps manage the content approval process, routing content to the appropriate teams for review and authorization. This ensures that the right people are involved at each stage, reducing manual coordination and scheduling conflicts.
  • Collaboration: Like Google Docs and Office 365, most CMSs allow multiple users to write, edit, and review simultaneously. This ability to collaborate in real-time encourages input and minimizes delays.
  • Editing: While some CMSs only have the ability to incorporate basic text changes, others can implement complex formatting adjustments with ease. Depending on the CMS you’re using, it may also feature version control, enabling users to track changes and revert to previous versions.
  • Organization: Digital content management is also much easier with a CMS. Tags, metadata, and categories are typically available in CMS, making it easy to find, categorize, and organize content.

CMS uses

Content management systems can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Website management: CMSs simplify website management by providing the means to easily modify your website's layout, design, and functionality.
  • Blogging: CMSs offer a range of tools, like intuitive text editors, image uploading capabilities, and scheduling options, that streamline the process of blogging or content marketing.
  • Digital marketing: A CMS empowers you to create landing pages and microsites for marketing campaigns without the help of developers. Through their metadata customization and URL restructuring capabilities, they also bolster your search engine optimization efforts.

CMS advantages

Next, let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of content management solutions like CMS:

  • Quick deployment: With the simplified framework of a CMS, you can set up a fully functional website in a fraction of the time it would take for a custom-coded solution.
  • Cost efficiency: By using ready-made templates provided by a CMS in addition to your own brand guides, you no longer need to rely on the expertise of designers and developers, saving you time and money.
  • User-friendliness: CMSs are designed to be accessible and easy to use. You can make the changes and updates you want, even if you don’t have any coding experience.
  • Functionality: While most CMSs come equipped with essential features, they also offer the flexibility to tailor and expand their functionalities using plugins and integrations. Whether you're aiming to incorporate E-commerce tools, enable social media sharing, or integrate advanced analytics, CMSs provide ample opportunities for customization.

What is document management?

Document management refers to the systematic process of creating, organizing, storing, retrieving, and sharing documents. Businesses often enlist the help of software solutions like a DMS to simplify this process, replacing traditional paper-based document management. Here are the main features, uses, and advantages of DMSs:

DMS features

Robust DMSs offer a range of powerful features, including:

  • Document capturing and scanning: DMSs can transform physical documents into digital documents through image capturing and scanning, eliminating the need for manual data entry. With Optical Character Recognition technology, these digitized documents can be edited just like any other text document or spreadsheet.
  • Document search: You no longer need to page through file cabinets to find the information you’re looking for. Documents stored in a DMS can be easily located using keywords and metadata.
  • File locking: Not only are your files safe within a DMS, but they also support data integrity with their file locking features. When you’re working on a document, you can prevent others from making edits at the same time. Every change you make is documented in the version history as well, so there are no surprises.
  • Document organization: DMSs offer many ways to organize your important documents. You can set up categories and subcategories or even find what you’re looking for using tags and filters.

DMS uses

The importance of effective document management cannot be overstated. Here are some ways document management systems can help your business handle its critical information:

  • Recordkeeping: If done manually, recordkeeping can be a tedious job. A DMS can take care of the busy work by recording all of your important information in one secure and centralized location.
  • Compliance: Compliance is a top priority for any successful business. A DMS can aid in compliance by enforcing document retention policies, maintaining audit trails, and controlling access to sensitive information.
  • Enterprise content organization: Through categorization, tagging, and indexing, a well-implemented DMS facilitates the organization of all your enterprise content, including contacts, legal documents, and more.

DMS advantages

Document management systems have many advantages, some of which include:

  • Centralized storage: A DMS acts as a centralized storage for documents of all types. Rather than your documents being scattered across various systems and locations, you can have them safe and secure all in one place.
  • Legal compliance: DMSs help businesses comply with data privacy laws such as GDPR. By closely adhering to the rules for document retention and more, you can mitigate your business’ legal risks and uphold its good reputation.
  • Security and audit trails: Cybersecurity threats are becoming more and more advanced. To protect your sensitive information, encryption, role-based permissions, and audit trails are a must. DMS can help address any security concerns you have.

What are the similarities between content management vs. document management?

Both content management and document management systems offer similar features, such as automating workflows to streamline processes, ensuring content security through access controls and permissions, facilitating digital asset management for multimedia files, and providing centralized storage to improve accessibility and collaboration across an organization. While their focus may vary, these similarities highlight their shared goal of efficient information handling.

What are the differences between content management vs. document management?

Generally speaking, CMS and DMS have more differences than similarities. As we’ve mentioned, DMS primarily deals with structured data like PDFs and Word documents for tasks like recordkeeping, while CMS is versatile enough to handle both structured and unstructured data, including multimedia creative files like audio, video, and images used on blogs and websites.

Additionally, CMS commonly integrates with web-based tools such as social media plugins, ecommerce features, and digital asset management (DAM) systems like Bynder, to enhance user engagement and optimize content delivery. Meanwhile, DMS integrates with business tools like customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and email systems, aiming to improve overall organizational efficiency.

How to choose between a CMS vs. DMS

Choosing between a CMS vs. DMS can be challenging. You may want to opt for a CMS if you need to publish content for your website, while a DMS is much more suitable for managing sensitive documents. However, in many cases, using both systems in tandem can provide a comprehensive solution that addresses both your content delivery and document management needs.

Key takeaways: Document management vs. content management

Document management systems and content management systems share both similarities and differences that offer value to businesses. If you aim to enhance operational efficiency and streamline workflows, Bynder's digital asset management platform provides the ideal solution. Schedule a demo today to explore its benefits firsthand, or check out our State of Content Report.