Acronyms Anonymous: Deciphering the World of Content Management

Navigating the World of Content Management can sometimes be overwhelming. Let’s step through a recovery program to help us decipher the acronyms we see on a daily basis and how they can improve the understanding of our work in these different technologies.

My daily work has been a toxic relationship with acronyms. CMS, WCM, ECM, EWCM, DMS, DAM. They have been a puzzle of shuffled letters, an extravagant anagramical game of world play that exhausted my mind and left me daydreaming of the moment I could grasp the glory of the cryptic world that is content management. They have clouded my vision, given me chronic headaches, and consumed my working environment to where I no longer could communicate effectively with my clients, boss, and coworkers. I knew I was wasted on words when the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw WCM was Woman Crush Monday. That was the end for me. Fin. Koniec. Ende.

It was at that moment that I knew it was time for me to sit down and decipher my wildly familiar, yet mind numbingly confusing set of company acronyms. What do they mean?! What do they mean?! I am ready to put my Millennial-minded tendencies to rest as I help myself help you unlock the mysteries of the World of Content Management.

Follow my 5 step program to recover from the CMS acronym blues.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem

“We admitted we were powerless over content management concepts- that our work lives had become unmanageable”

Admit to your boss, admit to your coworkers, admit to yourself, that you have no idea how to effectively explain the different aspects of the content management industry. Admit that the plethora of open-source and enterprise CMS technologies and their correct uses have become out of control and whether you are a new comer or a seasoned veteran, we can all benefit by examining and reflecting on the different needs and uses of the modern CMS.

Step 2: Understand the problem

“Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to understanding why content management confuses us. Understand the past to make sense of today.”

Content management systems have been around for quite some time (around the late 1990’s). Since the birth and growth of the internet, there has been a need to organize, update, share, and publish digital content- whether it be text, images, documents, etc. While the early forms of the CMS centered around WYSIWYG editors to update your website instead of sifting through lines of HTML, the technologies piled on the feature list to help collaboration between developers, designers, and the business.

There was a split between open-sourced and enterprise CMS technologies to manage websites, mostly attributed to the cost, maintenance, and security differences between the two paths. This battle still rages on today with well-armed arguments for both sides that we can save for a conversation on another rainy day.

There was an even further split that occurred sometime later that, in my opinion, is the tinder for the confusion fire I am trying to put out. There is a difference between a Document Management System (DMS) and Web Content Management (WCM). These two separately branched off into their own forms of open-sourced and paid enterprise solutions and added to their feature list.

Not surprisingly, the CMS world was still unsatisfied. This thirst gave birth to yet another separate but related concept known as the Digital Asset Management (DAM) system. It, too, split off on its own open-source and proprietary software systems.

Recovered yet? Or still feeling a little wobbly?

….Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a DAM!

On to step three…

Step 3: Define the problem

“Made a searching and fearless acronym inventory of our technology concepts”

Let’s create a list to organize and define our CMS acronyms in order to see the differences between what we know and what we think we know but really don’t know.

CMS (Content Management System):

Wikipedia says, “A computer application that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment.”

I say, “A general software term that serves as the overarching umbrella of what we call a system that captures, stores, updates, preserves, secures, and shares any kind of digital content and provides a way for users to work together to make sure no one messes up”

ECM (Enterprise Content Management):

Wikipedia says,A formalized means of organizing and storing an organization’s documents, and other content, that relate to the organization’s processes. The term encompasses strategies, methods, and tools used throughout the lifecycle of the content.”

I say, “A content management system (see previous definition) that includes additional features to manage a lot more content than usual,  can be used by a lot more people than usual, has a lot more security threats than usual, and is used by a company that can be sued a lot more than usual”

DMS (Document Management System):

Wikipedia says,A software system used to track, manage and store digital documents”

I say, “A type of standard or enterprise content management system used by a company that has a whole lot of digital documents in different formats (Word, Excel, PDF, etc.) that need to be organized and easily accessed on a daily basis and can retain versions of the documents for a long time in case they are audited”

DAM (Digital Asset Management):

Wikipedia says, “A software system that consists of management tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets.”

I say, “A type of standard or enterprise content management system that serves as a single source of truth for digital assets that may be used on different content delivery channels while preserving versions, creating a well-defined hierarchy structure, and providing ways to manage and tag things like images, videos, audio files, animations, etc.”

WCM (Web Content Management):

Wikipedia says, “A software system that provides website authoring, collaboration, and administration tools designed to allow users with little knowledge of web programming languages or markup languages to create and manage website content with relative ease.”

I say, “A type of content management system that allows mildly tech-savvy business and marketing people to build a website without knowing how to read or write code. Allows non tech-savvy people to be able to update a website without having to know how to read or write code. Allows designers to focus on how the website looks without stepping on the backend developer’s toes. Allows developers to complete development work and customizations upfront in order to give the business the power to control the website, depending on IT only to fulfill enhancement instead of content-related requests. May or may not utilize its own or third-party DAM”

EWCM (Enterprise Web Content Management):

                Wikipedia says, “  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯   ”

I say,A type of enterprise content management system (see previous definition) that is also a web content management system (see previous definition) that offers additional features to cater to the enterprise industry and may complement and extend the functionality of a DMS system. These features usually cover multisite support, personalization, advanced caching, backups, LDAP integration, and advanced deployment options.”

Whew! That was a lot. And a lot of my personal input as well. A good idea would be to really study this list. The best definition for you may actually be a happy medium between me, Wikipedia, and your own experience. Feel free to write your own definitions in the comments below! You can see why this is confusing. Deep breath! You can do this!

On to step four…

Step 4: Learn from the problem

“Admitted to our boss, to ourselves, and to the team. We are now ready to right our wrongs.”

Now that we have admitted there is a problem, understand what the problem is and how it came to be, and defined exactly what it is we need to know, now would be a good time to digest and reflect on what it all means.

Some key points:

  • CMS is a broad term that covers a wide variety of software systems that serve a multitude of purposes and business types
  • The CMS industry is in a state of confusion because of multiple splits over time between content and business requirements
  • Organizing and managing large amounts of digital documents and assets is different than being able to easily and efficiently update websites while managing and efficiently maintaining its digital content
  • The concept of content management, web content management, document management, and digital asset management can all overlap
  • ECM is a CMS concept applied to the enterprise
  • A WCM system is a type of CMS
  • A DMS is a type of CMS
  • A DMS can be used independently, referenced within a WCM or EWCM , and/or be a component of ECM
  • A DAM system is a type of CMS
  • A DAM system can be used independently, within an WCM or EWCM system, and/or be a component of ECM
  • A WCM system can contain or utilize an existing DAM or DMS
  • An EWCM system is a type of WCM system that can contain or utilize a DMS and/or DAM that is part of the ECM system.

Seeing is believing…..


Read this through a couple times and compare acronyms in the bullets with the diagram to see the relationship. I used the acronyms to keep your mind active….and keep you on your toes! When you can stand on one foot and touch your nose without seeing E’s or M’s, continue to step five….

Step 5: Live a healthy work life

“Make amends with the projects of yesteryear and be willing to take your new knowledge to all of the content management projects of tomorrow”

It is time for us to apply and use our newfound knowledge. Now that we have deciphered the World of Content Management, we are ready to apply it to our work.

Look back on previous projects you have worked on.

  • Was it a WCM or EWCM project?
  • Did your project use a DAM? If so, was it part of the EWCM system or a third-party software?
  • When have you seen previous clients misuse terminology?
  • Was your CMS open-source or proprietary?

Look to the future on how we can live a healthy CMS life.

  • Use the correct terminology.
  • Share correct terminology with others.
  • Perform your CMS project tasks while still reminding yourself of how they contribute to the overall CMS concept

There are endless amount of CMS systems being used and sometimes it is hard to get back to understanding the basics when thrown into the deep end of a CMS project. When working with your CMS, it is a great idea to stop and think about its overall purpose and understand the specific components of what makes up that CMS. Be able to comfortably talk about the differences between software systems and how they can all benefit or not benefit from one another.

And that’s all folks! I wish you the best of luck on your road to acronym recovery. The World of Content Management is not the easiest place to live and remember that its evolution never stops. Thank you for working through my five step program and I hope it gets rid of some of your headaches and has you back on the road in no time!


Published by

Cait Moran

Cait is a developer and consultant working in the U.S. on global projects for TBSCG to help enterprise businesses optimize the use of their content management systems. She is passionate about discussing big technological concepts while writing the code to deliver the details.

3 thoughts on “Acronyms Anonymous: Deciphering the World of Content Management”

  1. Thanks for your insightful approach to discussing an age-old IT issue and has been the C/O (Complaint of) most people dealing with IT. It SMTM (sometimes) requires ESP (Extrasensory Perception) and then you are SITD (still in the dark). OMG (oh my goodness) it can cause high BP (blood pressure) and elevated BPM (Beats Per Minute) when talking to bosses and clients. So MHTOTY (my hat’s off to you) for doing a GR8 (great) job. TYVM (thank you very much) this was XLNT (excellent).

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