DEV Community

Cover image for As CMS is to Content, DMS is to Data
annabelvandaalen for Datopian

Posted on

As CMS is to Content, DMS is to Data

You've heard of a content management system (CMS), but have you heard of a data management system (DMS)? In this article, we show that the two aren't all that different. Just as many companies turn instinctively to CMS to manage their content, we'll explain why DMS should be the natural go-to for any data-driven organisation.

Photo by Stephen Phillips

Photo by Stephen Phillips on Unsplash

Many companies are familiar with the term Content Management System (CMS). For those producing large amounts of content, investing in a CMS is the established practice. Type content management into a web browser and well-worn software like WordPress and Contentful are top of the search.

Far fewer companies count Data Management System (DMS) among their passive vocabulary. Enterprises producing large amounts of data, unlike their content-producing counterparts, have not traditionally enjoyed go-to solutions for managing their assets. They have only really had access to ad-hoc solutions for storing their data, like Dropbox or Sharepoint.

At least, until now. As a range of organisations begin collecting more and more data, the term DMS is starting escape expert circles. So, too, is knowledge about the open-source data management software CKAN.

What is a CMS?

A content management system is a software that can be used to manage the creation, modification and display of website content. In other words, it is a tool that allows non-expert users to create a website without having to code one from scratch. A well-known CMS is Wordpress.

A traditional CMS allows users to:

  • Store content, such as blog posts and images
  • Edit, update and add content
  • Display themed content on a website
  • Share content internally

What is a DMS?

A data management system is a software that can be used to manage the storage, modification and display of data(sets) in a data portal. These could be internal data portals, used to manage private organisation data, or open data portals, used to share data with the public.

DMSs are becoming increasingly popular among a wide range of data-driven organisations, from governments to enterprises. This is because DMSs allow organisations to do much more with their data than simply store it across ad-hoc solutions like DropBox or OneDrive. A traditional DMS allows you to:

  • Store metadata about data stored elsewhere
  • Discover data
  • Edit, update and add data and/or metadata
  • Display and visualise data
  • Share data internally and externally

CKAN is an open-source DMS, which means it can be extended to provide new features based on different user needs.

Comparing CMS and DMS

The design and function of a DMS is very similar to a CMS. Both systems are made up of the same basic components:

  • A system for storing information
  • An interface for creating and editing information
  • A component for rendering the stored information in a user interface (UI) and often in an API

You might think of a CMS and a DMS in terms of a human body, with the head as the front end and the body and legs as the back end (note: in software engineering, a distinction is made between the ‘front end’, the part of the software seen by the user, and the ‘back end’, the behind-the-scenes part of the software). Each part of the body serves a certain function.

CMS/DMS diagram by Monika Popova


It is important to clarify here that the type of CMS and DMS under discussion in this article are traditional, or ‘monolithic’ CMSs/DMSs. For these software to function properly, each part of the body has to work together as a unified system. More recently, new approaches to management system software (known as headlessness or decoupling), in which the different parts operate independently of one another, are gaining traction. Look out for an upcoming post on this from us soon!

Let’s compare the two management systems in more detail.

Part Monolithic DMS Monolithic CMS
storage data catalog storing metadata about data stored elsewhere (and sometimes the data itself) content repository
API delivers data delivers content
admin interface allows users to edit and add to datasets allows users to edit content
renderer displays datasets on a data portal displays themed content on a webpage

Whereas a CMS publishes web pages, a DMS publishes datasets. That being said, new approaches to data management make it possible to display both content (such as blog posts) and datasets via the same front end. This is thanks to the ‘headless’ movement within content and data management, which forms the subject of an upcoming Datopian post.

Article by Annabel van Daalen and Rufus Pollock, with graphics by Monika Popova.

Top comments (0)