What’s the Difference Between Document Management and Knowledge Management?

November 2, 2017
What's the Difference Between Document Management and Knowledge Management
Does a difference exist between document management (DM) and knowledge management (KM)? Absolutely. Do the differences matter? Without a doubt.

Defining the differences between knowledge management and document management is crucial to ensuring that your organization remains competitive in a dynamic marketplace that changes at lightning speed. In a real way, the difference is as significant as a hard copy filing cabinet that facilitates finding the information you seek versus a robust digital system that helps you quickly find and interpret the relevant data necessary to provide critical insights into your organization.

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each:

Document Management

  • Makes documents available across a wide variety of issues within a certain topic
  • Assumes the users know what documents are needed
  • Focus is to store and organize content rather than sharing data
  • Relies on metadata for organization for easier searches
  • May best be described as an information storage and sharing system that does not address the relevancy or usefulness of the data

Knowledge Management

  • Uses discrete data to address specific issues
  • Assumes the user does not know which document will address an issue and guides the user to the correct information
  • Designed to quickly and efficiently deliver the most relevant data for specific issues
  • Uses a natural language search engine as well as metadata to deliver relevant information
  • Features give priority to useful and current data over simply storing historical data


The consequences of failing to properly define your organization’s needs in order to adopt the appropriate solution may not be immediately recognized. You may be well past the purchase, implementation, and use of the product for a significant amount of time before you realize the system doesn’t meet your needs. Then you will once again go through the slow process of searching for a new product that truly solves your issues.

Once implemented without understanding that document management cannot deliver the same capabilities as knowledge management, your organization will face a growing deluge of failures. It may start with complaints from the end-users who cannot find what they are searching for. However, soon nearly everyone will notice that the document management tool cannot achieve the objectives that you set at the outset.

The smoke signals will reveal a series of fires produced by the new system, such as declining customer service satisfaction, declining revenue, and declining profits. Metrics across the board may begin to fall and leadership will demand an answer. Ultimately, they will realize that the weak metrics cannot be excused by coincidence or chance, but instead by the failure to understand the difference between knowledge management and document management. The expenditure will not prove profitable, and your choice may be to cut your losses quickly, learn from the mistake, and redefine your organization’s needs to purchase the right product wisely.

Document management has its uses. However, knowledge management is the discipline driving competition in the marketplace today. Consider the differences wisely before investing in the wrong product.

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