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ECM vs. CMS: What's the difference?

A variety of random letters on colorful, scattered blocks

Acronyms — the tech world loves them. ECM, CMS, DMS, CSP, CRM, PLM, ERP, and the list goes on and on. With so many of them floating around, things can get a bit confusing.

What’s even more confusing is when the terms they stand for are similar. Two prime examples of this are ECM (Enterprise Content Management) and CMS (Content Management System). While both terms contain “content management,” they apply content management in entirely different ways.

The good news is that the high-level difference between the two systems is relatively straightforward.


ECM vs. CMS: The Big Difference

In the simplest terms, ECM, or Enterprise Content Management, is all about documents: the organization, management, and control of documents as well as the business processes involved in the creation, modification, validation, and publication of documents. AODocs is an example of an ECM platform.

ECM’s primary purpose is to ensure compliance with regulation, contracts, industry standards, and more, as well as to reduce human error and enforce consistency across organizational processes, thereby increasing efficiency.

On the other hand, a CMS, or a Content Management System, is basically another term for “intranet” as well as a tool to manage content, including images and videos, on your web pages. An example of a CMS is Wordpress, the most popular CMS on the market. This type of software exists to provide an easy way for non-technical users to create and publish web content.

Now that we’ve established their differences, let’s take a closer look at what makes each of these platforms tick.


Enterprise Content Management: What is it?

As we previously touched on, ECM is any technology that captures, organizes, stores, and delivers unstructured information and content related to an organization’s processes.

It’s about controlling your documents and includes everything from business processes and retention to traceability and compliance, as well as everything in between that helps streamline your business-critical processes.

There are a few key ECM features that set the software apart from a CMS:

  • Document organization: ECM adds structure and metadata to your documents so that they’re easier to locate and makes it possible to configure rules so you can automate access permissions, retention periods, and validation paths for your documents.
  • Document Protection: With ECM, your documents are protected against accidental deletion and modifications by unauthorized users, and they’re retained for as long as your company is obligated to keep them. It also enables secure collaboration between internal and authorized external users of your organization.
  • Business processes implementation: From simple approval workflows to advanced processes that control document creation, reviews, updates, publishing, unpublishing, and more, ECM takes care of all of your business process needs and can potentially connect with your other systems, like CRM, ERP, or PLM.
  • Traceability: ECM properly logs all of your users' operations, accesses, and activities into a comprehensive audit trail, which is crucial to meeting most regulatory compliance requirements.

Do you feel like you have a better understanding of Enterprise Content Management? We sure hope so! Now, let’s switch gears and take an in-depth look into CMS.


Content Management System: What is it?

A CMS is any technology that helps the user create and modify digital content on your intranet or public web pages. If you’ve ever used a website builder, you’re probably familiar with CMS capabilities.

A robust CMS shares similarities with ECM, such as publishing controls and administration capabilities, but usually not on par with that of true ECM software — just enough to help manage your web pages’ content. Both should also offer security and support when you need it.

Some of the key features of a CMS include:

  • SEO tools: A quality CMS helps your website stand out among the competition by helping you rank higher on search engine results pages with the help of built-in SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, tools. It can help you optimize URLs, metadata, page titles, alt tags for images, and more. A CMS can also offer insights with data analytics.
  • Customizable Templates: If you’ve ever used a CMS, you may be familiar with choosing templates from an existing library and customizing them, or building your own with features like drag-and-drop boxes. Not only can customizable templates help you achieve the look and feel you want of your web pages but also offer automated widgets and add-ons, like dropdown lists, to improve efficiency.

Feeling a little better about what makes a CMS a CMS? Great!


The Bottom Line

While this overview only scratches the surface of the differences between and key features of ECM and CMS, it’s essential information to know upfront when searching for a content management solution.

There are single systems, like SharePoint, that provide both enterprise content management and a content management system. However, if your organization wants to modernize your systems by replacing a complete SharePoint deployment, you can do so with the right combination of ECM and CMS, like AODocs plus LumApps or Google Sites.

Whatever you choose, you now have a solid foundation to start your research and find the solutions that are right for you.



Content Management Enterprise Content Management ECM DMS content CMS Content Management System