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Electronic Document Management

Content management systems

Is electronic document management a thing of the past? You might be forgiven for thinking so, as the newer technology of content management appears to take its place. But electronic document management still has its place in business information. It is used more for the internal needs of businesses rather than for providing information to customers. However, the information systems industry is working on ways to integrate content management and document management so that they become part of one system.

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What is the difference between electronic document management and content management?

The main difference is that the focus of document management is the document as a whole, rather than the smaller details of the content contained in the document, whereas content management deals with smaller chunks of information. The difference between the two information management systems is often explained by saying that electronic document management is "static", whereas content management is "dynamic". What this means is that you can do more with the smaller chunks of information created in content management, whereas whole documents are harder to do things with. In practice, that means that a content management system can separate content from presentation, allowing the content to be repackaged in a variety of different forms. In contrast, a document management system is concerned with preserving the document intact and keeping it in the same format.

Why use electronic document management?

Electronic document management won't give you an attractive, interactive website. But it requires less technical support and know-how than content management (mainly because it is an older system), so many businesses find that it is an easy way of storing and sharing internal information. It's especially useful for archiving information. For example, imagine that your company has thousands of paper records, and you want to modernize by having all records stored on a computer system instead. Document management is probably a better option than content management in that situation, because you won't need to worry about interactivity or splitting up each document's content. If, later on, you want to create links between records and/or store the information in a web-ready format, you will find that electronic document management has been a useful step on the way to content management.

What do electronic document management systems do?

Some document management systems can separate document information (for example, taking the addresses out of a series of documents containing customer details) but their ability to do this is more limited than that of content management systems. Some electronic document management systems allow you to scan in paper records and store them. Others have text retrieval and sorting features.

Which system should I choose?

The good news is that you don't have to choose between electronic document management and content management. Some systems integrate the two forms. For example, you can purchase content management systems that allow you to search stored documents. In a sense, the document management system is hidden behind the content management system; the content management system provides a user interface that enables you to access documents. Finally, remember that the simpler choice is usually the better. Buying a complicated content management system that you don't need will be an expensive mistake. However, if you choose a simple electronic document management system as an interim step, this will make it easier to upgrade to a content management system than if you go straight from paper records to content management.