There’s good news and bad news for information managers today. The good news — today’s technology has resulted in almost limitless ways to store, manage and share information within organizations and between organizations and the larger world. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news. The word “information” covers a lot of territory. Some information is business critical, some is mere clutter. Some information has to be stored and managed according to the strictest compliance and security requirements; other types can be treated casually and discarded as soon as the information has served its purpose. While there used to be one basic type of information in a business — a paper document — now there are multitudes, and many of them are inextricably linked. All of this greatly complicates the jobs of information management professionals. However, the challenges can be simplified and even overcome by understanding the distinction between different types of business content and selecting the right tool (or tools) to manage the content based on legal, regulatory and operational requirements. 

Content versus Records

This most crucial distinction for many organizations is the difference between content and records. They are often erroneously lumped into the same bucket with the assumption that they serve the same purpose and should be managed the same way. Most organizations will find that such a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.In its most basic sense, content is simply information or data that is accessed and used in a variety of ways by people throughout an organization. It can change all the time and serve a huge number of purposes, all related to helping people do their jobs better. It may or may not be evidence of a business transaction, but when it is, it becomes a record with a full set of legal and regulatory requirements.  The difference between content and records is huge, and both require fundamentally different management techniques. Content must be managed in a manner that promotes productivity, collaboration and efficiency. Records must be managed to meet strict requirements regarding disposition, retention, auditability and destruction. Can one system do both? Many organizations discover that they need two systems — an enterprise content management system and a records management system— to meet all of their content management needs. These systems don’t necessarily have to be completely separate, however. In fact, they can work together quite nicely, as long as you understand the purpose and limitations of each system.Frequently, ECM and RMS tools are mistakenly believed to be interchangeable. It’s true that there are some similarities. For example, both types of systems are designed to manage information efficiently throughout an organization; and they do have some common features, such as document routing, security, imaging, version control, audit trails and the ability to handle different electronic file types, such as documents, sound and video.But there the similarities pretty much end. Understanding the differences is key to understanding which solution is best for your environment.

Understanding the Systems’ Core Competencies 

ECM systems are typically used for document collaboration and information dissemination on a shared platform attached to a document repository. They allow content to be created and modified in an ordered framework based on predefined workflows. ECM systems are most beneficial when used to create, store and modify content for other applications.The primary mission of an RMS is to manage the complete lifecycle of records, which need to be preserved in their original form, secure and unchanged. The lifecycle typically includes specific legal and regulatory requirements related to the retention, disposition, audit and destruction of any given record. The RMS must also accommodate exceptions, such as legal holds in instances of litigation or audits. Another difference: Many RMSs support imaging technology like scanners to reduce physical file storage costs and provide remote users access to records. They can also leverage barcode scanning technology to quickly locate physical records and provide a complete audit trail of their usage.Here’s another way to look at the difference between ECM and RMS tools. Think about content and records as though they were a letter in an envelope. ECM systems focus on the content inside the envelope and on sharing and modifying that content. RMSs focus on the envelope itself – in other words, providing a secure framework to ensure that official records are stored, maintained and managed confidentially, safely and securely. 

Selecting the Right System for Your Environment

Which system is right for you? The answer is typically both. In fact, many organizations deploy both systems side by side in an integrated fashion. Each system focuses on its core capabilities: ECM systems share information and enable collaboration, while RMSs track, manage and secure those items deemed as records. Typical points of integration are at the user interface, the application itself and at the database itself. 



This figure depicts the many separate systems that can exist in an organization, including both an ECM system and RMS. The lines illustrate key points of potential integration or interoperability, as well as how users  access the content and records inside the system.


Tying it All Together

Most organizations today use some type of shared content management system that allows employees and work groups to store, manage and collaborate on common business documents and work processes. Many organizations, however, still believe that these existing information management infrastructures are adequate (or can be expanded) to meet their records management needs. With the heightened importance of records management best practices in today’s regulatory, legal and economic environments, this could end up being a being a costly mistake. 

When you see the differences between content and records, you clearly understand the need to manage both of them appropriately – using different systems designed to meet different purposes. The good news is that ECM and RMS tools are available today that can work together to unify and simplify many content management challenges while maintaining the integrity of their respective core competencies. Just don’t ask one to do a job for which it wasn’t designed. 


Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access