ECM vs DAM: Managing Knowledge Assets in the Modern Enterprise

By Gilad Maayan
Published 01/15/2021
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What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

What is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?

ECM systems enable management of all content relevant to an organization’s business—storing assets and managing their lifecycle. Enterprise content management tools are operationally focused. The types of information they store includes documents, contracts, invoices, receipts, PDFs, Word files—but can include any type of content needed for business operations. 

Most documents in enterprise content management systems are text-based. These systems are the modern replacement of filing cabinets, allowing organizations to move historical records from physical warehouses to cloud-based or local storage servers, enabling convenient digital access.

DAM software that allows organizations to store, organize, access and distribute digital content, with a focus on rich media like images, videos, and audio files. A key differentiator between Digital Asset Management (DAM) and other file storage solutions is the ability to add and link different types of metadata, to provide contextual information about digital content and enable easier access, analysis and use of the content. Digital asset management also provides tools to restrict access to content based on user roles.

Digital asset management eliminates cumbersome file requests, avoids time wasted searching for content, and ensures content efforts are not duplicated.

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How Does ECM Benefit the Enterprise?

ECM provides a centralized platform for maintaining and distributing content, in a manner that meets compliance requirements and risk management guidelines. ECM achieves compliance by eliminating ad hoc processes that could expose companies to the risk of data exposure or loss.

Effective ECM systems simplify access and business processes, optimize files to reduce storage requirements, eliminates the need for paper and physical mail, improves security, maintains data integrity, and minimizes administrative overhead.

Other capabilities provided by an enterprise content management system include:

  • Workflow controls—enables content classification, review, check-in/check-out, and security mechanisms
  • Knowledge management (KM)—facilitates creation, sharing, and organization of business content across the enterprise
  • Data discovery and analysis—facilitates data mining on large volumes of data, and enable security classification of data, identifying sensitive data that requires tighter protection. 
  • Searching—enables flexible search and retrieval of content, including the ability to limit search scope and apply filters and search parameters.
  • Single source of truth (SSOT)—ensures critical content can only be stored once, reducing the risk of duplication and giving the entire enterprise access to a single, approved, trusted version of the information.
  • Automation—automates manual processes and reduces use of physical mail, cutting costs and reducing operational overhead.

How Does DAM Benefit the Enterprise?

Modern DAM platforms provide an authoritative, curated source for images, videos and other digital assets, making them available across the enterprise as well as on any authorized, connected device.

Digital asset management capabilities include:

  • Convenient workflows—DAM systems allow creative teams and marketers to quickly find source images they need for campaigns and projects, manage the revision cycle, and share the final images with those who need them—web developers, print shops, etc.
  • Automatic tagging—metadata tagging is increasingly automated in modern DAMs. A DAM can add implicit metadata inferred and reinforced by related activities—for example, capturing the attributes in a digital asset like a photo (location, date, photographer, etc.) and generating tags. Another example is the use of OCR to read content in an image and use it to tag the asset.
  • Adding context to files—DAMs provide contextual prompts that operators can use to add content to media files. For example, photos of products can be linked to a product information management application—an operator can be prompted to select the product that appears in the image, and all product attributes can be added to the DAM record.
  • Image recognition—after proper training, image recognition algorithms can detect logos, identify objects, determine colors, count products, read product labels, and characterize facial features. DAM vendors typically integrate with image recognition services developed by third-party providers.

Digital Asset Management vs Enterprise Content Management

ECM is a large category of solutions, which includes DAM as part of its scope. There are many technical features provided by ECM, and these features include the “five basics” of DAM systems. Here are the five basic elements of DAM systems and how they are supported by ECM:

1. Governance

DAM systems have permission-based controls that can automatically enforce rules and security over who can access the asset and how the asset is used. This also helps ensure your team uses only the latest approved assets. An ECM system provides these access control and security capabilities.

2. Metadata and taxonomy

These are the building blocks that support the complex nature of visual content search. Metadata helps users to easily find assets in the DAM platform. Classification provides high-level categories for search filtering, and metadata is further deepened by the data like permissions, file types, colors, automatically generated descriptors of assets, etc. 

ECM systems support metadata for assets, although without a specialized DAM component they do not support specialized features for media assets, such as OCR or automated image recognition.

3. Automatic processing

ECM solutions are designed to improve and simplify work processes by automatically processing content assets. In a DAM context, automations can include the ability to create file conversions on the fly, generate multiple versions of an asset for web and print use, or even automatically publish an asset to a content management system. 

ECM solutions either come with a DAM component that enables specific automated actions for rich media, or may provide customization and integrate with third-party tools that provide this automation.

4. Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE)

COPE is focused on the goal of achieving a single source of truth. If you allocate assets by sharing, linking, and including them in multiple systems, channels, and websites, there may be confusion about which is the approved and updated version of the asset. ECS systems help identify a trusted master version of each content asset, and this can be applied to media assets too.

5. Analytics

Data about the creation, usage, and consumption of assets is essential to making further investments in content. Analytics is a basic component of ECM systems. In a DAM context, ECM can provide the metrics you need to understand how content is performing and how users access the system and content (for example, identifying assets and system functions that are frequently or seldomly used).


In this article I explained the benefits and capabilities of two enterprise content management systems: enterprise content management (ECM) and digital asset management (DAM). I showed that ECM is a broader system that, in many organizations, can subsume DAM capabilities. In particular, ECM can provide these five pillars of DAM:

  • Governance and access controls
  • Metadata and taxonomy management
  • Automatic processing and workflow management
  • Maintaining a trusted master copy of each data asset (COPE)
  • Providing analytics to enable optimization of content efforts



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Author Bio: Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Ixia, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.