Document Control, Document Management and Content Management, Interchangeable terms?
There is a wonderful Indian Poem about a group of blind men describing an elephant. One man grabs the writhing trunk and exclaims that it is like a snake. Another man puts his arms around the massive leg of the animal and confidently describes it as a tree trunk. The last man runs his hands along the large flapping ears and declares that the other two men are clearly wrong and the elephant is birdlike with wings. They were all feeling the same animal; the only thing that differed for each of them was perspective. This similarity always comes to mind when I find myself discussing the differences between document control, document management and content management with other quality and business professionals. In these discussions the differentiator is almost always perspective. Opinions and definitions run the gamut from no discernible difference to resolute beliefs that each of these are mission critical systems that do different but equally important functions. In most cases, I see clusters of systems that address different elements of what is required but in a very constrained fashion resulting in silos of information that do not communicate with each other. On the other end of the scale, I see companies doggedly attempting to utilize massive systems that are frequently difficult to navigate. These implementations can easily result in the users that most need to locate information to reliably do their job, becoming mired in a navigation nightmare, sometimes giving up and working around system controls to print and develop local shortcuts creating their own web of compliance issues and risk.
The reality is that the decisions about how best to address documentation and data access requires a holistic approach that gives equal consideration to IT and legal requirements, while not leaving behind ease of access for the entire user community that depends on this information.
Let’s start with a uniform set of definitions:
- Document Control: A system that enforces business and compliance rules concerning access and content for controlled documents. This includes such elements as:
o Control numbers
o Revision and version numbers
o The controls for updating versions and revisions
o Approvals, signatures and release controls
o Change management controls
o Archiving and retention requirements
- Document Management: A system similar to document control but more focused on the logistical management of availability and access to documentation at the correct, required and appropriate points of use. This system typically focuses on how the organization assures that the correct documents are available to the community that needs access and information. In many cases this can include suppliers. Examples include:
o Direct electronic access via computer and/or mobile devices
o Files or binders of printed documents
o Publishing to supplier portals or other company websites
o Removal and update mechanisms for each of the above, including notification methods
- Content Management: A system for managing all the work product documentation and intellectual property for an organization or enterprise. These systems are very broad in scope and include elements such as:
o Marketing collateral
o Purchasing documentation such as Purchase requisitions and Purchase Orders.
o Product Data Sheets
o Contracts and legal agreements
If we go with these definitions we can see that the means and appropriate systems for addressing each of these requirements can likely be very different. It would be close to impossible to address the content management requirements while simultaneously assuring ease of navigation and easy reliable access for the basic user. There are very good commercial solutions available for each of these requirements. The solution systems for Enterprise Content Management handle all the items we listed under that definition but are not easily navigated by basic users such as shop floor personnel, etc. These systems are typically owned and managed by the IT organization. Companies make sizable investments in Content Management Systems and can easily fall into the trap of attempting to force its use as a universal tool for Document Control and Management, as well. In my experience, attempting to leverage Content Management Systems for other Compliance and Access Control purposes invariably fails to satisfy the goals of the broader objectives.
Whatever systems you settle on for each of these areas, be sure the content is included in both your IT organizations disaster recovery and back-up process, as well as user community training criteria.
You can have the most comprehensive and state of the art system and still fall short of your objective if the people who depend on it can’t quickly and reliably locate what they need
Broaden your perspective and be careful where you’re grabbing that elephant.