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What is a Document Management System (DMS)?

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Document Management System (DMS) is the definition of a software solution that helps organisations manage documents throughout their lifecycle, automate workflows and streamline business processes to achieve business objectives.

Modern Document Management Systems and ECM software are key to digital transformation and mostly capable of the following tasks:

  • Simplifying file and document exchange 
  • Enforcing information compliance, governance and records management.
  • Optimising business process management.
  • Enabling mobile and remote working
  • Function as a content repository for external applications.
  • And a whole host of other business-critical tasks and processes.

What is the difference between DMS, ECM and CSP?

Enterprise content management (ECM) is a term that has been around for a long time - since the early 2000s to be precise. But what exactly is it? In an era when we are bombarded with terms like document management system (DMS), document management solutions, case management, file management, knowledge management and content services platforms (CSP), where does ECM fit into this picture, and how does it relate to each other?

Looking at chronological development of definitions, the order is this: document management, enterprise content management and lastly content services platform. 

What matters is that all three definitions refer to a document management system as an application of a solution, or DMS.

This article explains what a document management system can do and explains its main features and benefits.

What are the functions of a Document Management System?

The capabilities of a DMS are often described by the following operations (functions):


'Back in the day', in the days before ECM, most content entering a system consisted of scanned paper documents. This is very different for an ECM system, which needs to capture content from multiple sources, including paper, e-mails, faxes, electronic documents such as Microsoft Word or Excel files, as well as industry-specific file formats such as medical images or CAD files.


An ECM system builds on the document management capabilities of a document management system (DMS), such as version control and audit trails, to provide a comprehensive set of controls and tools for managing multiple types of content.


Access to documents in an ECM or document management system was usually exclusively through the user interface of the DMS. ECM changes that and allows content to be accessed by multiple users, from multiple devices and even from multiple systems. The ability to provide secure, role-based and controlled access to content via system interfaces such as desktop, web and mobile are essential, as is the ability to integrate with external systems such as MS Office and Outlook.


As the lifecycle of document and content management systems increases, so does the need for a wide range of storage options. From simply being able to store content in multiple locations (such as local disk, network disk, cloud storage, etc.) to archiving content to storage media more suitable for long-term storage, content storage needs to be done effectively, and ideally seamlessly for users.


The automation of processes using defined workflows and tasks is a key feature of any ECM system. The ability to deliver value by reducing human interaction, to identify process bottlenecks, or simply to use the speed and scale that computing power can deliver - all provide definable return on investment (ROI) around ECM deployments and are key to the initial purchase of the system as well as the long-term success of the deployment.

The automation of processes using defined workflows and tasks is a key feature of a DMS. The ability to create value by reducing human interaction, identifying bottlenecks in processes or simply taking advantage of the speed and scale that computing power can provide - all of these provide an increased return on investment (ROI) around DMS implementations and are key to both the initial purchase of the system and the long-term success of the implementation.


An often overlooked aspect of a DMS is the ability to analyse documents and data. Things like reporting features, including the ability to define ad-hoc reports, are provided as a core function and allow users to identify usage patterns, potentially fraudulent behaviour and duplicate content. But also, for example, recognising old records that are eligible for deletion.

How does a DMS make a difference?

A Document Management System can be used by many different departments within an organisation and provides a multitude of benefits. Below are some of the common areas where a DMS can make a difference:

  • Improved employee productivity as information is found more quickly and easily.
  • Accelerated productivity and low implementation and ownership costs, leading to a quick ROI on the project.
  • Better management of business information, reduced risk of content security breaches and improvements in compliance and audit management.
  • Improved personal productivity and business flexibility.
  • Reduction of faulty information management
  • Improved ability to extract value from existing digital information.

What should you look out for in a DMS?

This explanation gives an outline of what a Document Management System can provide. Would you like to know which specific features to look out for when assessing a DMS yourself? Then download the DMS checklist for free and avoid making the wrong decision.


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