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Document Management vs. Knowledge Management Systems: What Does Your Business Really Need?


You know you need a better way to retain your essential business information, but does that mean investing in document management software? Or is a knowledge management system really what your organization needs to improve?

While both of these technologies are important, they focus on achieving fundamentally different goals, so it’s a good idea to understand how they work and how to choose the best solution for your business needs.

What Is A Document Management System?

Document management software focuses on how you retain, find and reuse actual files where your data is stored, like Word docs, PDFs, etc. It plays an important role in collaboration processes for document creation, such as generating proposals and other document-based deliverables.

By improving all of the ways that people store, share and access documents, adopting document management software is a great way to improve productivity. It’s especially important for knowledge workers and project-based workflows, which you typically find at a law firm and other professional services organizations.

The access controls and monitoring capabilities of document management software also make it central to maintaining compliance at many organizations. The system automatically maintains a history for each document, creating audit trails that give you a comprehensive history of who has accessed a document, what changes they’ve made and other details necessary for compliance.

If you can’t locate the correct documentation in the event of an audit, you create serious business risks. When you need to quickly find information, such as the latest version of a document, document management software makes it easy, using robust search and well-organized documents based on your information architecture and taxonomy.

Document management software also provides tools for automating your information governance strategy and managing the entire lifecycle of a document, so that certain documents are retained indefinitely, while others are easily destroyed once they’re no longer required for compliance.

What Is A Knowledge Management System?

Knowledge management has a more holistic purpose that goes beyond document management, with the goal of retaining various types of organizational knowledge. Every time an employee leaves your company, their expertise and know-how goes with them, unless you have tools and processes in place to capture it. Instead of constantly going back to square one, knowledge management helps you to reuse existing knowledge so that you’re able to grow and build upon it.

Elements of a knowledge management system could include a knowledge base, a wiki and a document library, as well as search tools that help users find expertise and capabilities within the organization. For example, if you have a team starting a new project, it should be easy for them to find and reuse documentation from similar previous projects.

A knowledge management system also connects people across the organization in ways that improve internal communication to make it easy to share expertise. If a team needs help with a certain client or task, a knowledge management system helps them quickly find people with the right knowledge and experience. Depending on your organization, the system could be run by a knowledge management officer, or be part of your strategy, business development or line-of-business departments.

In the end, both document management and knowledge management systems have much to offer in terms of improving your organization’s productivity, efficiency and agility. But remember, they are designed for different goals. When you’re deciding which is best for your situation, start with identifying your current challenges and what you’re trying to accomplish. Business needs and issues should always determine the tools you ultimately choose.


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