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CMS vs ECM: A Digital Crossroads

CMS vs ECM: A Digital Crossroads

Building an online presence to bolster your business is essential, whether you want to hit the ground running with a brand-new venture or are aiming to cultivate a blog to catch the traffic you might be missing. Regardless of why you’ve started down this path, the internet has placed you at a crossroads that many have faced before you: CMS vs ECM.

Content Management Systems (CMS) and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) are both basically what they sound like: ways to manage your content. Though CMS and ECM fall into the same category as far as business software programs are concerned, they are far from identical.

Similar, But Not The Same

One aspect that CMS and ECM do have in common is the ability to allow multiple users access to your content from within your company. Giving multiple employees permission to post on your blog reduces the amount of responsibility and time necessary per person to maintain your content. Additionally, content management platforms can be an internal file-sharing portal, providing a space to keep vital information such as client accounts your employees may need to access, and eliminating the need to wait on someone else to deliver crucial documents.

However, one big difference that factors into the CMS vs ECM debate is their actual structure. While a CMS is typically one software platform (like WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal), ECM refers to the strategies or methods used to manage your content and involves multiple software programs working in conjunction. This may sound complicated, but rest assured that ECM platforms (SharePoint, Alfresco or OnBase to name a few) provide everything a successful content management strategy requires in one tidy package.

CMS vs ECM: Figuring Out What You Need

Oftentimes, the first stop in the CMS vs ECM debate is business size; businesses in the small-to-medium range can find more value from a CMS, whereas businesses in the medium-to-large neighborhood should probably take the ECM route. The reasoning behind this concept is that smaller businesses are exactly that: smaller. Generally, smaller businesses have less complex needs than larger businesses and a smaller pool of content to track, making ECM’s more extensive capabilities less imperative.

Business size can definitely give you a good idea of which direction to go in or which platform will benefit you the most, but it doesn’t need to be the only aspect you take into account. After all, when it comes to content management, it all depends on what you mean by ‘content.’

If you want to publish client-facing content (blogs, articles or company information pages) to the web, you should use: CMS or ECM

Why: Managing client-facing content is a big reason CMS software exists. One of the most empowering aspects of working with a CMS is the ability to produce and publish web content with little-to-no HTML coding experience. This enables you to cut a step out of the process of publishing, updating, removing or performing any kind of maintenance to your content: the webmaster. By eliminating the necessity of describing the changes you want made to another person and waiting on their timetable to see those changes implemented, maintaining control of your site, content and branding becomes a wonderful ‘the ball is always in your court’ scenario.

Keep in mind that, like a CMS, ECM also provides you with the ability to publish client-facing content, the level of difficulty dependent upon what each ECM platform brings to the table. If publishing your own web content to your website is all you need to do, CMS is probably your best bet.

If you want to manage documents, reports or records digitally, you should use: ECM

Why: While client-facing content is a CMS strong suit, maintaining documents, reports, and records is where ECM shines. Managing unstructured and semi-structured information is important to every business and can definitely be overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be painful. A good ECM strategy does the heavy lifting for you by providing you with imaging abilities (digitizing paper documents, reports and records), integration with any existing digital content and a management system to keep everything organized and accessible.

This aspect is less for client-facing content and more so your company can keep track of all those pesky receipts. Utilizing an ECM not only lowers the future risk of a stressful ‘I know I just saw that document somewhere’ situation, but as a business grows, the amount of documentation and paperwork (digital or otherwise) grows with it, and keeping your records organized is a hugely important task for any successful business to take on.

In The End, It’s All About You

Choosing a content management platform really comes down to what you want, what you need and what you’re willing to work with. Choosing the ECM route may present you with more options than a CMS, but depending on the size and purpose of your company, those options may not be necessary. Having more features might only bring more complications to the table, but if your needs are great enough, those features could prove valuable. The CMS vs ECM debate may be intimidating at first but research, assessment and some good old-fashion trust in your own instincts will lead you in the right direction.

Ready to begin your content management software search? Be sure to check out our reports on the Top 10 Content Management Software and the Top 10 Enterprise Content Management Software to get you started.

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bill Ohl]

Erin Marrs

CMS vs ECM: A Digital Crossroads
Erin is a Content Strategist and Marketing Account Lead at