Is a Document Management System a half measure?

DMS digitizes and preserves documents - but is that enough?

DMS digitizes and preserves documents - but is that enough?

While the direction of this blog is forward-looking, it is instructive at times to consider the history of technologies and techniques.  One such is document management, and its predecessor, electronic document imaging, both of which are precursors to modern content management.  This is not to say that document management is dead as a technology or a solution; in fact, in some operational circles document management is very much alive and useful.

The earliest document management systems addressed the problem of paper proliferation.  "Electronic document imaging systems" combined document scanning with database-driven storage, indexing, and retrieval to form libraries of what were once reams of paper files. "Document management" became a solution in its own right as vendors added support for digital file formats generated by word processors, spreadsheets, and other office-productivity products. The descendants of those earlier systems are the document-based enterprise content management systems of today, such as Microsoft SharePoint, OpenText Documentum, and Hyland OnBase.

When is DMS useful?
One question to consider: is a document management system (DMS) relevant in the modern world of digital content management? At its core, a DMS knows nothing about the information within a document; that is, users don't link to content within a document managed in a DMS. Instead, users tag whole documents and link one whole document to another whole document; the DMS simply maintains the inter-document links.  Hence, in the context of digitized content, a DMS is something of a half-measure because each document under management exists as a static element.

"DMS is closer to DAM rather than CMS."

This may be sufficient for some organizations and in some applications. If the document itself is significant – either supplementary to or alongside the data it contains – then a DMS represents what could be a supremely useful permutation of content management. For instance, it's one thing to have a database containing the collected works of William Shakespeare intricately tagged and linked via hypertext. It's an entirely different concern, though, to digitize a specific document written in Shakespeare's own hand.

In a way, a DMS is closer in function to that of a digital asset management system rather than that of a content management system, especially in its ability to protect and preserve the original form of a document. A DMS can also be a very low-cost solution given the dozens of open-source document management solutions available today. Enterprises looking to achieve organization and clarity when dealing with large physical archives of documents may choose from a wide variety of free and fee-based DMS solutions. Using existing hardware and software like cloud computing, scanners and simple image editing and management software, an enterprise can digitize its documents without having to build or acquire a more complicated CMS.

The limits of DMS
However, by leaning on a DMS, enterprises may find themselves running up against the lack of sophistication innate to the software. Since the tagged data is essentially referential to the document itself, it is easy to miss valuable insight contained within the document. Documents cannot easily be interrelated with similar content or data recombined into something new.

Enterprises have found value in linking digital asset management with content management, so it's likely that a DMS working in conjunction with CMS is the ideal solution. If the physical document itself – or at least the visual representation of it – is of value, the ability to tag and separate the data within the document while still preserving it in a static form will lead to a more agile, comprehensive information.

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