The question was posed to me the other day, “what is the difference between Enterprise Content Management vs Records Management?”, or more specifically, Content Management and Records Management? The short answer is that they are both methods for managing documents but their focuses are considerably different.
Ok, that makes no sense. Best illustrated as an overlapping Venn diagram, I will attempt to explain this in general terms, how the software in each domain differs from the other. Indeed they are in many respects two sides of the same coin, and ideally all the content in an ECM system would also be managed by an RM system. But first my disclaimer, I have no doubt that my blog will upset the purists in the audience, so let me say up front that I am merely offering a lay-persons explanation, simplified out of necessity (I don’t like putting readers to sleep).
Generally speaking, Content Management systems are tactical in nature. They solve specific “line of business” challenges such as managing the content of your Intranet, or keeping engineering documents secure. ECM systems keep content until something is updated to a new version or deleted. They should also have contextual metadata tags for each document so that the content can be rapidly searched for and surfaced with little effort. The taxonomy used for this tagging is almost always business based, such as “department”, “product name” or “contract number”, and is often defined in an ad-hoc way (see blog What Is ECM).
Records management generally concerns itself with the integrity of a piece of content and its secure disposal at an appropriate time. There will be methods for managing “chain of custody” of content and there will be methods for recording the disposal process, and should a court order require it, legal holds will be applied to suspend disposal. These Records Management practices stem from the management of paper or “physical” content, and as such the taxonomy or “file plan” used for retrieval tends to be very structured and generally speaking, very complicated for the average user to find things. All this is very important if you are looking for the one and only copy of a piece of paper though.
It’s this last point that’s caused much friction between those that use ECM systems and those that administer RM systems. The Records Managers need the structure to make sure everything is accounted for, but the users hate the filing system because it usually does not reflect the way they work and think. On the other hand, users are creating electronic records at an alarming rate (yes emails in most cases should be considered corporate records, albeit a small percentage), and if the users cannot figure out where to file them, then the Records Managers have no hope of ever keeping up. So for over a decade now, most companies have ignored the majority of electronic records as being “too hard” to deal with. Hopefully that clarifies what the difference is between Enterprise Content Management vs Records Management.
By Adam Wilkins, Strategic Consultant