22 May 2009

The CMS, RM difference

If you are new to the content management arena, there usually is a period of confusion when you try to compare Records Management Systems vis-a-vis Content Management Systems. This article is a small attempt to clarify the primary difference here and why both have separate objectives but end up fighting for equal space on an enterprise IT budget sheet.

From a technical layman perspective, a content management system (CMS) is a solution for capture, classification, organization, transformation & retrieval of content. Content can be unstructured (ad-hoc document, scanned sheets, Email etc) or structured (website data, user records etc). Lately, since electronic content usage has been exploding it shouldn’t come as a surprise that demand for such systems has increased and will continue so. Essentially speaking, CMS systems came into existence as electronic content began to replace physical paper content.

Even before content management became such a hot topic in the IT industry, behind the scenes, many organizations and governmental agencies already had some electronic systems for managing electronic and physical assets under a science known as “Record Keeping & Archiving”.

So it seems, Content Management (CM) and Records Management (RM) evolved in their own spheres and with the advent of modern electronic classification and capture systems, came face to face and today stand at a threshold where they almost overlap each other in features. To understand the need for existence of each, we need to go down a bit into what they essentially deal with.

CMS systems are basically supposed to manage Content. Similarly RMS (Records management Systems) are supposed to manage Records. So it boils down to the difference between content and a record. Content refers to any information (might be a document, or an image or just a paragraph of text) that is stored in the system and managed with the following main objectives
  • Needs to be captured/accessed via different systems/interfaces.
  • Needs to be protected with flexible authorization schemes.
  • Needs to be transformed and made available in various formats.
  • Needs to be properly classified for easy retrieval.
  • Needs to be version-managed & participate in electronic processes.
Well, a record too refers to an information asset (might be a document, or an image or just a paragraph of text) that is stored in the system but here the objectives are a bit different.
  • Needs to be made available as evidence when required
  • Needs to be kept for specified periods for regulatory compliance.
  • Will very infrequently need modification & is mostly immutable.
  • Needs to follow more stringent access control with mostly only read access granted.
  • Needs to follow proper disposal mechanisms.

CMS RM Integration

Broadly speaking, whatever is managed as content today might after a period of time be managed as a record. CMS systems need to be designed with the objective of making content as much available and enriched with metadata as possible. The perspective here is to reduce redundancy and ensure that content can participate in transactional processes and be available when required. The goal is to ensure that your CMS serves as your single-stop point for unstructured data, similar as your database is for structured data. With these objectives the CMS also needs to cater to scalability and geographical distribution requirements.

RMS systems need to be designed with the objective of ensuring that compliance requirements required for record keeping systems are met. This includes proper record capture, classification, adherence to retention schedules, disposition rules, efficient notifications and alerts for records reaching their end-of-life and stringent security measures to ensure that records are never tampered with. Some RMS systems also have a feature to keep track of existing physical records as well via some classification and identification schemes for efficient retrieval.

With the advent of regulatory requirements for financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies, it has become imperative for any enterprise to demonstrate high levels of adherence to these policies. So while a CMS is needed to manage the rapidly increasing electronic workload, a RMS is needed to handle audit reporting & compliance. No wonder that IT budget sheets find both these systems jostling for budgets.

The ECM (Enterprise Content Management) arena is already becoming a pot-boiler mix of various buzzwords and sub-areas like KM (Knowledge Management), WCM (Web Content management), DAM (Digital Asset Management) etc. ECM Vendors are leaving no stone unturned to incorporate the whole gamut of features from basic DMS, Imaging to Records Management. Funny fact is that it’s becoming tougher for the end-customer to decide whether he/she needs a CMS with RM features or a RMS with some DM features. The wise customer is the one who realizes that no solution fits all and the better alternative is to leave it to the solution integrator to wire together the pieces and deliver the ECM capability that suits his/her requirement.

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